A TIME TO TALK: AN OPEN LETTER TO GEN Y
Brian O’Neill (Guest Columnist, The Peninsula Gateway)
Published: 01:02PM May 13th, 2009
As the spokesperson for Generation X, I would like to formally, if a tad belatedly, welcome Generation Y to the table.
Those of you born between 1980 and 1995 already have lived through quite a few disasters in the past few years, and I’m not just referring to reality TV (hopefully you were napping during disco).
Now that you’ve had a chance to settle in, whether it be the lockers of your high school, the hallowed halls of university, the military or corporate America, it’s time we had a talk.
No doubt you’ve noticed the current status of your hometown and your world and are now mature enough to comprehend what your elders have accomplished: a controversial war or two, an economy in the process of flame-out, global warming and a myriad of other calamities.
You may think our credibility is shot.
Some of you already have miles underneath your feet: deployments to Iraq, pink slips, even prison. A good many of you are still awaiting the fruits of life following high school or college, like my own boys are.
All of you are wondering how we screwed things up so badly.
If history is any indication, Generation X did not invent the term “colossal mistake.” The Greatest Generation, which fought WWII and rebuilt a country, also introduced us to a little known country called Vietnam.
The baby boomers, who courageously fought and died in its steaming jungles and rice paddies, in turn introduced my generation, and yours, to war in the ancient lands of Afghanistan and Iraq.
Despite our generational faux pas, as parents and mentors, we never have tried to bring such heart-breaking challenges to our children. No one person created the financial scandal in which we now sit (though I like Barry Madoff in the role of scapegoat), nor did any one person foment the intensity of hatred toward our country that brought about the events of Sept. 11, 2001.
And we all share responsibility for melting polar ice caps and a disappearing ozone layer.
In truth, we wanted what was best for you. We treasured and fussed over you, and we quietly resolved to improve your life over that of our own.
Take me, for example. My father worked a small Irish farm with 12 brothers and sisters before he and my mother immigrated to America in their 20s. Because he allowed his children daily access to school, my father rightly believed my siblings and I were privileged well beyond his meager education.
But on weekends and summers, he brought us to work on his construction site. Hard, manual labor was the only route to the success of which he knew. My two boys will never know the sinking feeling of 12 hours on the job, watching your friends head past on their way to a game. What they will know is how to mow a lawn.
But maybe we have gone too far. I have watched parents, including myself, hover over you in classrooms and at Little League games. We bought the right car seats and helmets. Then we bought you cell phones. In the words of that great American philosopher Homer Simpson, “D’oh!”
As a result, we have been the unwitting authors of your greatest fault: rude behavior.
How many times have we watched you loudly proclaim your innermost thoughts to random people on the street during an ill-timed cell phone conversation? Or snuff any attempt at human interaction by plugging in your earbuds? Or commit random acts of twitter?
To complete my rant, paste this thought on your Facebook page: Texting is not conversation, and sexting is not love. But wait, you say, we’re just following your example! Really? How did you manage to pick that habit up while ignoring the broccoli on your plate?
My point is that you have a lot of work to do, and we don’t want you getting sidetracked by distractions.
Consider this a very late invitation to take our collective hand, and let us pull you up out of yourselves a bit. Shake off some of that self-absorption and focus on the problem.
You have a world to save.
A Time to Talk columnist Brian O’Neill can be reached by e-mail at email@example.com.
I am certainly not the spokesperson of Gen Y, but I, for one, will be more than happy to talk with you.
First, I want to sincerely thank you for your invitation. Frankly, I’ve been waiting for years for a Gen X’er or Boomer to care enough to ask for a dialogue! Please know that it’s appreciated.
We certainly are in a challenging time in history, and there is more than enough blame to go around. But no matter which way we look at it, I suppose we’re all in the same proverbial boat now, so we may as well find a way to float forward!
I will completely agree with you on a few things — as a group, we Gen Y’ers don’t seem to know when to quit with our technology, and sometimes it probably comes across badly. These are boundaries we are still learning, I think. But it’s important to note that what “distracted” means for our group is probably something different than what it means for yours. Perhaps it was our being raised on ADD-inducing-television, new varieties of technology every 6 months, and constant multitasking — whatever the causes, we are a supremely interactive bunch. And I believe there are ways we can actually leverage this connectivity to our collective benefit!
Also, I think it’s worth mentioning that these “distractions” are only going to get worse. Do you think Generation Z is going to be less connected than we are!? I sure don’t.
For me, there’s something deeper happening here than typical generational differences. There is a metamorphosis of mentality afoot that is driving these shifts. It is a silent revolution, and I will give you all the benefit of the doubt: it’s hard to see and difficult to hear, especially if you’re an outsider to the new paradigm. (This is a big topic that I’ll be exploring more on this blog, and in my new book as well.)
In any case, I want you to know that there are a group of us Gen Y’ers who would love to talk. We want nothing more than to help save the world. But as a group, we often feel like X’ers and Boomers have mistaken our disengagement (or distraction) for apathy, and as such, have often written us off before we’ve even begun the dialogue.
And most young people have a period of self-absorption — I’m fairly certain your generations experienced it, too. But from where I’m standing, my cohorts are often leading the way in next-gen philanthropy. In fact, we may even do more than that!
I truly hope the collective Gen X’ers and Boomers are open to the dialogue you’re proposing. We’ve just been promised a conversation many times and then given a lecture instead.
Here’s hoping for a new exchange!
P.S. There’s a really great insightful article providing some background on Gen Y from Fortune Magazine I re-posted here.