The Younger Generation Often Gets a Bad Rap

WB IMG_6481

Stephen F. Dennstedt

Photographer, Writer, World Traveller

Cusco, Peru

Throughout history the emerging younger generation gets a bad rap. Today it’s the Millennials (loosely defined as those born between the years 1980 and 2000), late teens to mid-30s. Millennials, as a group, tend to be tech-savvy and demanding. Some would say entitled. I am a Baby-boomer (and an early Baby-boomer to boot). 1946 to 1964 defines the Baby-boom generation (post WWII), and I was born in 1947 (I’m almost 70-years old . . . wow, how did that happen?).

I grew up in the Cold War 1950s but came of age in the 1960s. The Beatles, Hippies, Civil Rights, and Vietnam dominated our generation. Flower Power, Acid (LSD), Pot, Haight-Ashbury, Free Love, and Civil Disobedience ruled. Our parents were not pleased. Anti-establishment was our credo, anything our parents stood for was bad. We defined liberalism, our heroes were: JFK, RFK, MLK, Bob Dylan, and Joan Baez.

I look at my generation now and cringe. When did we become GOP conservatives and Trump supporters? When did we become racists, bigots, and intolerant? When did we turn from ecologists to global warming deniers? When did idealism turn to cynicism? Action into inaction? When did religion and ignorance trump (pun intended) science. When did social media become the surrogate for human interaction? When did community succumb to me-ism? I don’t think we can blame the Millennials.

We might be disappointed in the Millennials we spawned, but they have every right to be disappointed in us too. We failed in our efforts to end war, bring about equality for all mankind, protect the planet from the ravages of overpopulation and resource plundering, and our gross materialism. The military-industrial complex marched on despite Dwight Eisenhower’s warnings and our best efforts. We failed as a generation. Now it’s up to the Millennials to carry on. It’s our cynicism and failure they’ve inherited.

Is it any wonder they’re pissed off and disillusioned? They’ve inherited a world still at war, where racism and bigotry still exists, where all community protections are suspect (where social, political, legal, and religious institutions are corrupt and ineffectual), and on top of it all a dying planet (global warming deniers excepted). The nuclear family has given way to equality of the sexes (because we confused equality with sameness), and the human condition is becoming increasing disconnected and sterile.

The Millennials, our offspring, will have a tough row to hoe. Are they up to the task? Frankly, I’m doubtful. We couldn’t do it with all of our advantages, so I’m dubious they can do what we couldn’t. If they fail we are co-conspirators in their failure. We won’t share the responsibility (or the consequences), but that doesn’t completely absolve us of responsibility. Our Millennials are looking for answers and they’re looking for our help. Do we help or simply bask in our retirement . . . and criticize?

Travelling the world I’ve met many Millennials that give me a modicum of hope. Concerned, they become involved and they are action oriented. Many have become Facebook friends and we continue to dialogue often about things that should matter. The (young) friends I’ve made come from India, Nepal, Latin America, the Philippines, and to a lesser extent the United States. They are activists, just like we were in the 1960s (though not so vocal). We are not so different . . . young and old.

I dedicate this post to my young friends around the world who constantly challenge my worldview and perceptions. I am admittedly a dinosaur and can be stodgy at times in my thinking. I don’t always agree with you, my life experience differs from yours, but hopefully I can keep an open mind. Sometimes you really piss me off with your youthful arrogance, but only because it reminds me of what I once was. I apologize for my generation, but we did the best we could given the context of the times we lived in.

Sgt Stephen F. Dennstedt USMC 1965 - 1971 (Vietnam 1967 - 1968)

Sgt Stephen F. Dennstedt USMC 1965 – 1971 (Vietnam 1967 – 1968)

6 responses to “The Younger Generation Often Gets a Bad Rap

  1. Steven,

    I was born in ’46. My senior class was 1,000. Of that group, less than 10 might have been in the flower power, hate authority group attributed to all of our generation. Most of us honored our God, our parents, our country and our forefathers. We served our country, and returned to productive lives, continuing to Do all that our society and country expected of us. Unfortunately, the small group of misfits of our generation stayed home and took control of our institutions of learning and our government. Now our generation must fight to keep our nation.

    Sent from my iPhone


  2. I was born the same year as you(1947), and I too wonder where our generation went wrong. We are no closer to Martin Luther King dream then we were in 1963. When ever I hear people said that all of the milliennials are babies,I look at my son who has been to Iraq and my daughter-in-law who has been to both Iraq and Afghanistan. The thing is that most of them has never serviced. Simper fi from a retired soldier(a Vietnam vet).

  3. I’m just a few years younger–born 1950. It seemed like Vietnam pulled in mostly a slightly older demo, of people who were closer to the Greatest Generation than the Hippie thing. In 1968–the year of riots, the assassination of RFK, the Democratic Convention in Chicago and so on–we had Hippies and “hard hats,” working class guys who truly resented this coming generation of the self-entitled. The generational contrast was made into comedy on TV every week in the series “All in the Family.” Archie vs. Meathead. We on the side of Meathead thought we were something new, and as a momentary social / stylistic wave, I suppose we were. But as a substantial change in the course of the human race, not even a ripple! Greed, avarice and all the other deadly sins are older than the Bible. They never went away. Should we think they ever will? Every generation has had more than enough of its membership with more than enough fixation on self-aggrandizement to keep mankind from ever evolving to anything approaching altruistic greatness and I will take any odds that this is how it’s going to remain, at least for these next several millennia, if not forever. So if we’re placing our hope in any one certain generation, that they will somehow succeed in defying all of human history and step out of the timeless drumbeat to which man has always marched, I would consider that, by definition, naive thinking.

  4. Many in my generation are now appearing to have become ignorant over night in supporting a certain orange-hued political candidate. I was born in 1962. As I approach my mid-fifties, I remember my parents at this age thinking they were ancient. For some reason, I find myself becoming more liberal on social issues as I get older. This current election seems to have given those of my generation and older the right to be racist, bigoted, and ignorant. I’m wondering how it happened, but I’m relieved that I haven’t been influenced by it.

  5. Hey, Stephen. As much as I respect your worldly perspective, you’re view of millennials is both rose-colored and inexperienced. I taught dirt-poor white teenagers for the last 16 years and they’re neither better nor worse than the Vietnam generation. They’re just — young. But they’re not like we were. They are incapable of passion. For kids raised on sound bites, long-term commitment to any cause is simply beyond them. They have a basic sense of morality, and will act on it, as long as it doesn’t require much actual effort, or interfere with lunch.

    They won’t save the world because they’re more realistic than we were. They’re less idealistic, more materialistic and more fatalistic. They know it’s a mean world and their response generally isn’t to fix it or hate it but to ignore it, because they know they can’t fix it. The WWI generation tried and failed; the Greatest Generation tried and failed; the Vietnam generation tried and failed; so what’s the point?

    They won’t save the world through new technology. They love it but only superficially; cell phones aren’t a chance to open new worlds but an opportunity to experience adolescence with a very sharp edge: texting, sexting, bullying and gaming. We did it, too, but it’s so much more vivid over the phone.

    I see our failure as betrayal of our own ideals, not betraying millennials. We were good for 5-7 years through the Vietnam War, whether we fought it or fought fighting it, but then the Mouseketeers quit and got back to enjoying being the most privileged group of young people the world had ever seen. We’ve never looked back and the party has never stopped, which is why we’ve run ourselves and the country up to it’s eyeballs in debt, crying the whole time our entitlements are inadequately funded while refusing to endure the unpleasantness of paying the taxes required to pay for those entitlements. If we’ve let the millennials down it’s in refusing to grow the hell up and demand of them the commitments we failed to demand of ourselves: to make the personal sacrifices required to lead a disciplined life; to have the courage to demand of others those same sacrifices; and to refrain from personal self-indulgence when we know others suffer in poverty or powerlessness or both. The millennials, being children, have learned from us, and they’ve learned nothing but shallow lessons.

    • Thank you for taking the time to compose such a long, well thought out, and well written comment to my post. I agree with you on many of the points you made, and as a teacher you certainly have a unique insight into the world of the millennials. I would only caution that we don’t paint with too broad a brush, because there are always exceptions to the rule. The millennials I encounter during my world travels are typically those very same exceptions, and I’ve met some outstanding examples of young people doing some great things in their lives. Also, I find the millennial-curse most often represented by USA youth, and not so much in other countries and cultures. And as American adults I think we do have some responsibility in developing our young folks, we are the adults, the parents, the role models, the teachers, business managers, and mentors. Many millennials are now in their thirties with kids of their own. Thanks again for taking the time to respond.

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