The Gen Y Inheritance

This article is also available on the Huffington Post here.
It’s 1992, and you’re six years old. You’re in a classroom that hasn’t changed much since your parents sat there (despite the welcome lack of nuns in the classrooms of my own Catholic grade school). Your job is to learn. They’ll teach you everything you need to know. All you have to do is trust them that they’re right.

In 12 years, you’ll learn many things. Reading, writing, math; the basics are universally applicable to whatever life you’ll be leading. But you’ll learn a lot of stuff along the way that could prove as useless as it does indispensable. Chemistry, geography, business, art, and more will clutter your itinerary for the next decade. Notably absent will be critical thinking skills, replaced with the “trust us” notion in your authority figures — and that answers must match those on the standardized tests administered based on textbooks that will be out of date in five years. The books that reference the U.S.S.R. already are.

During this time, you discover the internet. It’s a new playground, full of so many diverse ideas and opinions. You can connect with or learn about virtually anything you want. Just like that, your viewpoint begins to diverge from your parents’ at a rate hitherto unknown in human history.

There’s something else. You’re told frequently during your childhood within this system that you’re special, unique, deserving of good things. Although later others call it a setting that breeds entitlement, at the time it seems an appropriately elementary idea that every person is born with the assumption that they’re deserving of a happy and productive life.

When you leave high school, at the end of the 12 years planned and implemented by your parents’ contemporaries, you face a choice. You’re told that if you want to succeed, you go to university. Even the less-advertised or less-prestigious post-secondary diplomas are a path to a secure life. Frequently, you hear words that will echo poorly later:

“If you don’t want to wind up flipping burgers, then get your degree.”

It’s 2014. You’ve attended school, gotten your piece(s) of paper, and are trying to build a life for yourself. You’re not an idiot. You’re well aware that we’re all special, all unique, and because of that we are also all the same. You grew up with the Internet, remember? You’ve argued over pop culture with people from China and philosophy with Australians. In many ways, you’re more worldly, informed, and connected than your parents ever were. There’s just one problem.

You’re looking for a job, and there don’t seem to be any.

Of the thousands of meticulously-crafted resumes and cover letters you send, the fraction of responses almost universally read that they seek a candidate with experience. In the mean time, you take a job flipping burgers to help pay your bills. You even take an unpaid internship, hoping for pay once you’ve proven yourself and gained experience. But don’t hold your breath. Others are just as desperate as you, and will do the same free work once your patience is at its limit. When you voice your disapproval, even though it’s alongside thousands of others, your erstwhile guardians and protectors’ response brings your quarter-century’s worth of idealism and hope to a grinding halt:

“You don’t like flipping burgers? Don’t act so entitled; you’re lucky to have a job at all.”

Retreating to the relative sanity of the internet (who ever thought you’d say that), you argue. What’s wrong with this new world that you can’t do as well as your parents? Why did they have jobs to last them the rest of their lives (with equally “useless” degrees, more often than not), cars, homes, equity, pensions, and more, all when they were your age? What’s changed?

There are clues. Since the good old days, there are new people in charge. You already know them. They’ve been telling you to trust them your entire life.

Trust them as they abandoned notions of peace and love for profit and wealth. Trust them as they became the generation of consumers even as they told you greed and selfishness are bad. Trust them as they stopped smoking pot and started popping pills. Trust them as they equated financial success with personal fulfillment, and tried to shove those values down your throat while you were still trying to figure out yourself and your life.

Trust them as they rape the environment, break the political and financial systems both with the same team of lobbyists and corporate shills masquerading as lawmakers and authority figures. Trust them as they strip your liberties away, spying on you “incidentally” and “for your own good.” Trust them as they refuse to retire, outsource jobs to other countries, decline to invest in new research and technologies that threaten the status quo of profit margins. Trust them as they squeeze you for every cent they can, crash economies worldwide, all while they tell you that you’re irresponsible with money.

Now you rail against these people who demanded your trust and betrayed you, and now they call you entitled.

Years ago, reading ahead in your textbook, teachers would sometimes tell you to follow along with the rest of class. When you asked them why, the most infuriating answer they’d give was “because I said so.” In the age of the Internet, an era where absolutely everything is open to commentary and criticism, this simply doesn’t hold up anymore. If something is broken, it’s broken. In a generation that contains more confirmed atheists than any before it, you aren’t used to being told “because I said so,” even if they do have grey hair and all the money.

The future is uncertain, and the condition of this world you’ll inherit from them even more so. Hopefully, you won’t make the same mistakes they did. Hopefully, you’ll be too busy fixing them.

Hopefully, you can trust yourself more than you trusted them — because “because I said so” isn’t something your children ever need to hear.

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