This morning on a friend’s Facebook page I saw posted a set of 11 rules of life, attributed to Bill Gates. I’d seen it before, but this time it caught my eye and I read them. I was amused at first, and then began to wonder if what made it appealing is Baby Boomer (read: “old fart,” of which I am one) cynicism that makes us sound just like our parents did about us. This isn’t the first time I’ve thought, “You know you’re getting old when you first put your hands on your hips and say with disdain, ‘These kids these days.‘”
Here is the list, so you can see for yourself how you initially react:
I’m willing to bet that the degree to which your first response is “hell, yeah” is directly correlated to either your age or your cynicism. Before you decide you think I’m nuts and get all offended, or agree with me in righteous indignation, just a couple of thoughts.
It didn’t sound to me like anything Bill Gates would say; Gates, for all his foibles and money (and the fact that I dislike the Windows near-monopoly) would understand better that the next generation is our future. Sure enough, I found it on Snopes.com: Bill Gates Commencement Speech. As I thought, Gates didn’t say it (neither did Kurt Vonnegut, to whom it’s also been attributed), though it is a real list from a 1996 book by Charles J. Sykes, Dumbing Down Our Kids: Why American Children Feel Good About Themselves But Can’t Read, Write, or Add. One thing it makes me think about is how often we want to attribute sayings to famous people – Albert Einstein and the Dalai Lama chief among them – but that will have to be a different post.
The more important point is that I see a lot of people malign the Millenial generation as entitled, disconnected from reality, and incapable of “real” intimacy (whatever that means). I wonder instead if they’re not just immersed in an interconnected web that flows more easily than we ever imagined possible – indeed than ever was possible before the technological advances of the past 10-15 years – between texts, email, social media, one-to-one interaction, and groups.
I’ve made a study of generational differences in the workforce lately, and I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about the future of corporations and governments. I also teach undergraduates as adjunct faculty, and while I sometimes see students ill-prepared for the world, much more often I am most struck by the energetic, bright-eyed, knowledge-hungry look of the fully engaged. I’ve made a point of working hard to make sense of social media, and I’ve come to believe that I understand it best when I allow myself to simply float on the sea of information it contains, savoring the informative and ignoring the rest.
And I’ve come to a conclusion: while there are Millenials and the subsequent generation who are entitled and lazy, the entitlement and laziness of those young people is no different than the entitlement and laziness of entitled and lazy people of any generation. They are not new.
Entitlement and laziness are not the story, and it’s time to stop sounding like our parents did about those “lazy, shiftless hippies” (read: us)
Instead, what I see is hope. Hope for a future with fewer walls, less hate, less racism, less sexism, less ageism, and less concern about people’s particular brand of sexuality. I see a growing body of bright, energetic, savvy young people who will be running the world sooner than we think. (Here’s a sobering thought for those of you who want to run for cover when you read that: 2014 is the first year that there will be more Millenials in the workforce than Boomers. And here’s another: by 2025, 75% of the workforce will be Millenials. Yep, read that again.) As one smart corporate leader once said about the Millenial generation in a room of company execs where I sat, “We can figure out how to hand over the keys to the kingdom, or they can pry them from our cold, dead hands. You pick.“
So, you pick. Which future do you choose, which one do you want to be a part of? The one where the world is going to hell in a hand basket, or the one we can help build with the young people who are going to inherit it? You pick.
And then, as we used to say in my youth, 45 years ago, “Lead, follow, or get out of the way.”
Do yourself a favor and take 3 minutes to watch the video below (or, in case the video below doesn’t work in your browser, here’s the link: BNV Round 4). I will warn you that it has just a bit of language that might make you blush a little, but it’s way worth it.
What I see is the future.
And I can’t wait.
Dr. Les Kertay, Awakened Moments