Millennial Hate and the Rise of Commerce with a Conscience
If I hear one more person say, “The problem with your generation is…” and then finish with some statement of how we are nothing more than a sect of mirror-worshiping do-nothings, I think I’m going to vomit. In Feb. 2015 I attended a panel discussion on our campus entitled “The Millennial Generation and the Adventist Church.” Hosted by the Michiana Adventist Forum, the aim was to educate attendees on what makes millennials different from the previous generations and how they will affect the future of the church. The most clear take-away though was that the audience of mostly baby boomers (the term applied those born between 1946 and 1964) had such a skewed and negative view of millennials that it has left a bad taste in my mouth for the last year and a half.
The millennial hate piece has become such commonplace in publications over recent years that it nearly merits its own genre. I can’t log onto Facebook without scrolling past a couple of articles taking their part in the name-calling and belittling, like a July piece in the New York Post in which author Johnny Oleksinski calls this generation a “smug pack of narcissists.” Oleksinski, a millennial himself, denounces the group he was born into and praises those who came before as people whose shoes we will never be able to fill. We’ve been called lazy, self-absorbed, entitled and so many other names that while reading them, they begin to lose their sting. I’ve read several articles from publications of varying degrees of integrity that like to pinpoint the “participation trophy” idea as one of the things to blame for our general awfulness. This is the idea that millennials grew up in a time when everyone got a prize for just showing up, that everyone was a winner if they tried. Critiques like to say that this practice has made us feel as if we deserve to be handed our rewards without putting in the work; but may I ask, who gave us the trophies? Millennial-hate, as most hate does, stems from a place of fear. As the last of the baby boomers near retirement age, and as Generation X-ers realize that the new largest population in the workforce are millennials, the older groups are realizing that this era is more than a passing of the torch, it is a regime shift.
The baby boomers made American society in their image and Generation X got rich off of it. Millennials have watched this happen. We’ve seen our parents and grandparents try their hardest to ascend the corporate ladder by devoting their lives to jobs that promised one-way tickets to a white picket fence. Many millennials are rejecting that model. A survey conducted at Bentley University and published by Forbes Magazine in November 2014 states that only 13 percent of millennial “respondents said their career goal involves climbing the corporate ladder to become a CEO or president.” The tools given to millennials by the Internet era, such as endless networking and the ability to have a global reach, have encouraged a new spirit of entrepreneurship. At Andrews alone, students are starting clothing lines, photography businesses, entertainment brands and many more self-launched enterprises into the world of commerce on a level unlike any group before us.
One of Generation X’s most signature movements was being anti-corporate. Publications like Adbusters that launched in the late 90s with hopes of tearing down consumerism is a prime example of that era. The 1999 protests in Seattle against the World Trade Organization and the Truth campaign that pointed to big tobacco companies and called them the problem are referenced by Scott Hess, a professional youth culture researcher, in his TED talk on the issue. Where Generation X wanted to blame corporations, we millennials are looking to them for the solutions. Starbucks is a massive company, but they created Ethos Water which has been made successful by millennials that are willing to buy into it because the company is actively fighting the global clean water crisis. TOMS Shoes is a company whose popularity spread like wildfire amongst our generation, not only for creating unique designs, but for its one-for-one policy which has been responsible for giving over 60 million pairs of shoes to impoverished communities.
Millennials are demanding more from our large companies than ever before. Commerce with a conscience is just one way in which this generation is rejecting that which is not good enough and supporting that which will make this world a finer place. Just because millennials are not chasing all the same dreams our predecessors chased does not mean we’re lazy. Just because millennials are broadening our views and opening up to global issues does not mean we are ignorant of the workings of our own country. The student body and Andrews University exemplifies all the positive aspects of this generation, and as the year progresses, this column will explore and showcase more of these.
[Photo courtesy of Toms Shoes LLC]