I received this letter from a reader last week following the advice I gave to the grad student who felt back-stabbed by her classmate.
Personally, it makes me feel dismissed, attacked, and like an outsider to the community. I am sure this deters potential Gen Y readers to join your site because, frankly, no one wants to enter a site and feel attacked. To be clear, I am not asking to get coddled, and have you tell me that everything will be okay, or whatever stereotypical phrases are apparently used to address me and other members of my generation. (I see the need to point this out because these comments are what I am trying to address).
I have seen this for the past two years, and as a member I have had enough. Making generalizing complaints about another generation is archaic and dismissive. It’s honestly like hearing a relative recall how “back in their day…” their lives were harder or more productive or something. Do you understand where I am coming from? I don’t know many people who want to hear that their current time-period is something to diminish to a few generalizations because it’s not the equivalent of a nostalgic past. I also don’t think that any research that points to the lazy/spoiled Gen Y trope justifies attacking an entire generation. That’s the same as men making generalizing statements about how women should stay home because some study “confirms” that women are happier there.
Would you consider addressing this? — Gen Y Feeling Attacked
OK, I’ll bite. I once made the mistake of making a remark at the end of a column that upset and alienated a lot of my readers (and for the record, many commenters agree with your perspective, LW, so it isn’t everyone ganging up on just one or two Gen Y-ers, and we absolutely don’t have this discussion every single time I post a letter from someone in his or her 20s! But I’m digressing…). What I wrote that one time was: “The fact is you do seem to have a sense of entitlement. But the “you” I see here isn’t just you. It’s a whole generation of you’s. Babies of the 80s, hear this: You are adults now and the world — and your parents — don’t owe you anything. You gotta make your own way, just like the generations of young adults did before you.” Oh my God, did I ever get my ass handed to me after that.
I can’t say that I thought the backlash was totally warranted, but I did appreciate that I hurt some feelings and was genuinely sorry about that. So I wrote this sort of apology/ explanation. And people still were upset. And I have to tell you, I was surprised by the extent of the anger. It’s not as if Generation Y/ 80s babies are a marginalized group of people. Not in the way, say, gay people are, or women, or minorities. You aren’t fighting an uphill battle for rights and equality. But I can understand that you’re fighting for respect (respect in the work force, respect in your families, and respect in society in general). That, I can see. And I can also see how perpetuating or reinforcing unflattering stereotypes may make getting the respect you want more difficult. And maybe that’s where all this anger comes from?
But here’s the thing: your generation is not unique in being teased or picked apart or not taken seriously enough. Every generation before you was young once. And we all went through it. And there were two things that made going through it a lot easier: representing our generation with maturity and dignity; and not taking everything so damn seriously.
I don’t know what it’s like to be 20-something in this era (and for the record, you don’t own this era just because you’re 20; it belongs to all of us. I feel the need to point this out in response to your statement: “I don’t know many people who want to hear that their current time-period is something to diminish…” It’s not your time period, and maybe you thinking that it is is part of the issue.). I know that it comes with challenges that are definitely unique. But it also comes with challenges that aren’t unique — challenges that every generation faces as it “comes of age.” So, I think we can learn from each other if we respect those two points. I, especially as an advice columnist and a parent, can learn from younger people about how the changing world affects the way we relate to each other since they are often more engaged in those changes than older people are. And I hope that young people can respect that old geezers like me have life experiences that give them a different perspective… and sometimes that perspective is going to make us roll our eyes a little bit and chuckle because the things that we see some of you getting so worked up over? It’s really not worth it.
Enjoy yourself. And if some old-timer says something disparaging about your generation that doesn’t even relate to you, shrug it off! Who cares! Life’s short. Eat a donut. And if someone says something disparaging about your generation that stings because maybe it does relate to you just a little, tiny, itsy bitsy bit, take that in and think about it a minute or two. And then go eat a donut. Because, seriously, in about ten years you will not be able to eat donuts like you could when you were 23. And, yes, I am bitter about that.
(And for the record, among the several thousand Gen Y-ers who read this site regularly, there is a community of smart, feisty, hard-working, opinionated, and compassionate people. Their voices are not only welcome here but necessary, and I hope they know how much they’re appreciated, even when discussions sometimes get heated. I also hope this is the last time we need to address this issue.).
If you have a relationship/dating question I can help answer, you can send me your letters at email@example.com.