articles

Definitely, Maybe

How ‘Generation Y’ Were Sold a Dream

Born roughly between 1980 and 1994, millennials are a much maligned generation. They are regularly portrayed in popular culture as lazy, narcissistic and stuck in a perpetual state of adolescence. A self-entitled generation who choose a life of instant gratification over long-term fulfilment.

However, these accusations are far from being unwarranted. According to a Pew Research Centre study, more than half of millennials admitted to being “self-absorbed” while around only a quarter considered themselves “responsible” or “self-reliant”. No other age group polled spoke of themselves in such negative terms.

On a brighter note, millennials are by far the most “idealistic” of any age group. Yet somewhat paradoxically, scored highest in “cynicism”, around 5 times more than their grandparents generation. What has caused a group of idealists to become so pessimistic about the world and their place in it?

As mostly children of the baby boomer generation, millennials have a keen sense of what’s expected of their life. The blueprint of a good education, successful career and a happy marriage with 2.3 kids was established by their post-war parents. These aspirations continue to define our perception of the ‘good life’.

Although their ambitions may be similar to that of their parents, by their own admission, generation Y has been far less successful. According to the study, while millennials have high “expectations” of their lives, they score very low on their sense of “achievement”, implying a sense of failure and discontent.

This is the result of a number of unique changes that took place in western society as generation Y approached adult-hood. While post-millennials will grow up embedded into the ways of a fast-moving, technology driven, post 9-11 world, millennials are old enough to remember a time when the world was a smaller, simpler place.

Millennials are children of the 90’s, a decade where the western world was a mainly peaceful, politically stable and prosperous place. They enjoyed the fruits of their parents labour and grew up with an unmistakable sense that humanity was on a fixed journey of constant progress.

Suffering was isolated to strange far away lands, where people lived primitively and looked differently. Where their agony seemed a reasonable consequence of their unfortunate place of birth. And so a naive generation grew up under the illusion
that their only exposure to hardship came when they watched the poor afflicted through a television screen.

But as this group came of age, their illusion was shattered by a series of world-changing events. The first was the devastating attacks of 9/11, followed by two foreign wars, a financial crisis and the ongoing threat of global terrorism. Not only was the world not as it seemed, they weren’t children anymore.

And the future that was waiting for them appeared with a grey tinge, when it previously had not. For the 21st century had conspired a set of circumstances which their suddenly old-fashioned parents had not encountered. An education bubble, a middle-class jobs crisis and a lack of affordable housing had left a generation feeling cheated.

Unlike the preceding generation x, who after being born into a recession, mosty recovered,  analysts suggests millennials will be the first generation to be worse-off than their parents. And while these issues have obvious financial consequences, the full repercussions are more than just monetary.

For in the absence of a roadmap to adulthood, millennials are experiencing an extended period of adolescence like no generation before. Leaving the nest, becoming financially independent and starting a family allows a person to grow and develop in ways that can’t be replicated in any other way.

But behind all this lies a more profound issue, one which strikes at the heart of every millennial and indeed every person. And its the question of meaning. A materialistic existence can’t offer us the things we truly desire or the answers to the problems which a new job, house or relationship can solve.

Religion can provide us with a purpose and meaning that underpins our entire understanding of our lives and our place in the world. Our Judeo-Christian heritage which formed the moral fabric of western civilisation, has been slowly replaced with a nihilistic, moral-relativism.

This is not a problem unique to millennials as church attendances from across the entire western world have been slowly declining for decades. But it is an issue that affects generation Y more than any previous age group, as roughly two-thirds of 16-35 year-olds profess to having no religious affiliation at all.

The Rew Research Centre study appears to reflect this sad picture. It reveals that only a staggering 17 percent of millennials consider themselves “moral”, while 43 percent self-confessed to being “greedy”. Meanwhile “compassion” seems to be a dwindling virtue, with less than a third attributing the quality to themselves.

These problems have been exacerbated by living in an unprecedented age of mass celebrity culture, superficial social media and 24-hour entertainment. The shallow and neurotic behaviour that pervades the popular low-arts has appealed to a generation who live mostly commitment and responsibility free lifestyles.

But its a legacy left by their baby-boomer parents which has had the most devastating consequences. For millennials are the unfortunate children of divorce and the resulting breakdown of the family unit. And as the primary victims, children are exposed firsthand to a heartbreaking experience with long-lasting psychological effects that are impossible to measure.

Like all generations, millennials are the beneficiaries and the victims of the circumstances of their time. And they are fortunate to have been spared in ways past generations were not. But while the seductive materialism of the 21st century can give them what they want, it doesn’t offer them what they really need.

Millennials are a lost generation of hopeless idealists wrapped in a protective bubble of apathy and distraction, as they struggle to reconcile the optimism of their youth with the harsher reality of the world today. For they are a generation who grew up for a world that no longer exists.

 

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