Loving the Me Me Me Generation

22 May

(On the plane to California, I typed out the following post on an article in Time Magazine. Then my phone deleted my post.  Here is my lame attempt to recreate it in 10 minutes of typing time nearly a week later. There’s nothing so frustrating as trying to re-write something that got lost.)

I’m not naturally a hugely optimistic person although I am typically pretty positive.  But reading the article “The Me Me Me Generation” by Joel Stein, an article that wavered on negatives (self-centeredness) and some positives (their niceness, negotiation skills), I found myself encouraged. Where the article finds this generation to be “lazy, entitled, selfish and shallow” I find hope.

Hope not so much in the article but in the individuals I personally know who make up the Millennial Generation.

The average middle-class American family today has an average of 85 pictures of themselves displayed in their house.  Utterly ridiculous. But the people I know have pictures of places and people they love, quotes that inspire them, artwork that challenges them, designs that speak to them.

I know a woman who asks questions. And listens to the answers. And remembers your responses and follows up later.

I know a group of women who text me every day. We laugh, we cry, we pray for each other, we share job triumphs and silly plank-off challenges.

I know a guy who says the right thing. And means the right thing. When I was nervous about not sleeping the other night, and asked him “If I can’t sleep tonight, can I have a hug at work tomorrow?” he immediately responded with “Regardless of whether you sleep or not, you get a hug tomorrow!”  How can one go wrong with friends like this?

“The problem is that when people try to boost self-esteem, they accidentally boost narcissism instead.  Just tell your kids you love them, it’s a better message.” – Joel Stein

I thought about this the other week…although I would never have phrased it so well. How many people say “Whatever you want, Princess, you can do anything.” Or “You’re the best, you’ll win, Son” and they think they’re instilling self-confidence in their child. Instead, they are instilling Me! Me! Me! I’m the most important person! If you mean to say “I love you” just use that phrase instead.

I tried it the other week. It’s a painful rarely used phrase coming out of my mouth unless its directed at my family. But, while away in Vermont, thinking about one of my friends, I realized I truly loved him. (Things like bombings help put this in perspective.) I told him when I got back.

What I thought I said: “I love you. Purely platonically but I didn’t want another day to pass without making sure you knew that I’m so blessed you’re in my life.”

What I actually said: “So…um…the thing is…I love you.  Purely platonically. Nothing weird. And not a selfish “I love you because you do this for me or you treat me this way” but an honest “I love you. Period. I am excited for wherever life takes you and blessed that you’re in my life.”  With about half a dozen extra -ums-.

I do awkward really well.  Except…it wasn’t awkward. He didn’t think it was a weird conversation. In fact, he laughed at me and said “Well, that took you a long time to say. I know its not your thing to say it. I love you, too. A lot. Now shall we celebrate our platonic love with beer and burgers and bike banter?”  And we did.

“Never before in history have people been able to grow up and reach age 23 so dominated by peers. To develop intellectually you’ve got to relate to older people, older things: 17 year olds never grow up if they’re just hanging around other 17 year olds.” – Mark Bauerlein in The Dumbest Generation

I have seen it both ways.  The guy at work who, at age 22, is probably just as intellectually sound, wise, and mature as I am at 30. Maybe that says something bad about me but I prefer to think it reflects very well on him.  Everyone laughs at us (lots of jokes about how I’m letting my kid brother tag along and a few weird Donnie & Marie Osmond remarks) but I find it refreshing that there are people brought up differently than I was who can relate to me. In one conversation, we can discuss mathematical equations, religion, the purpose of education, the BBC Sherlock series, why I value reading, and I forget that he’s nearly a decade younger than me.  This gives me hope.  And when we disagree on something, he says “Can you explain why you feel that way?  We think so similarly that when our answers diverge, I am really curious as to how and why you chose your path.”  Who can resist that kind of discussion?

And then there’s the guy who sits across from him. Smack between our ages, he should be just about at the age where my Dad considers a male to become a man. Except he’s not. He’s nice and likeable and funny and makes me laugh. But sometimes, I ask him to please grow up. To accept responsibility and a post-college worldview and to transition into the real world.  And he can’t.  And I knew, even before reading this quote, that it was related to the people he spends time with. A 17 year old cannot grow up if he only hangs out with other 17 year olds.  Even if that is just their mental age.

Climb the mountain so you can see the world, not so the world can see you.” – David McCullough, quoted by Joel Stein

This. This quote. This sticks with me.  And resonates.

The portion of the Me Me Me Generation that I love?  It’s because they’ve seen the point: that some people climb the mountain to be seen. To show off their intellectual prowess and their designer sporting apparel and sign a deal and make a million and flash a smile as a celebrity.  And maybe they will succeed. Maybe not.

But the ones who are climbing the mountain to see the world – to learn from those going up and coming down, who are sticking by my side on the ascent, who want to see the view for themselves rather than hear about it from others, who want to be a part of the process rather than just shooting for short-term success – those are the Millennials I love.

There are good people in this world.  (“She’s good people” one of my friends said about me to another. I resented the plural usage but reveled in the compliment.)  And I know lots of them. If nothing else in life works out the way I think it should, want it to, and pray it does, I know that I know good people. An article can tell me about percentages and averages and stereotypes. But my daily existence teaches me about kindness and understanding and listening and loving.

Climbing the mountain to see rather than to be seen. Learning to love rather than needing to be loved. Relating to older people rather than expecting them to relate to me. It all involves effort and hard work and some sweat. It encompasses understanding and vulnerability and willingness to let go of selfishness.  And the need for those traits supersedes any specific generation.

I’m grateful for those I am climbing with.  Thank you for wanting to see the world along with me.

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One Response to “Loving the Me Me Me Generation”

  1. Sarah Hussey May 24, 2013 at 11:22 am #

    That’s great Liz! I think you did a fabulous job writing this… Although I didn’t get to read your “first draft” 🙂 What a great way to look at our generation. It was nice to see the positive spin on it, as everything always seems so negative these days, but I think that things are changing for the better 🙂 I love reading your posts! You are such a talented writer 🙂

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