I’ve noticed a trend recently.
If you’re even moderately active on social media you might have noticed it, too. Today, our country finds itself in the midst of relatively uncharted territory. As a result, generational finger pointing and blame-laying are becoming more and more prevalent. It’s hard to blame anyone for feeling passionate in regards to the subject of societal divisions, economic or otherwise.
When I first read the recently published Huffington Post piece, Why Generation Y Yuppies Are Unhappy, my initial reaction was to ignore the broad generalizations and to focus primarily on the underlying truths that I imagine inspired the author in the first place. Was it poorly executed? Yes. Is every member of the 20-35 year old set a raging narcissist waiting around for a spotlight on the grand stage of life? Surely not.
But… are the overall ideas proposed by the article completely unwarranted? No.
Upon reading the subsequent avalanche of responses and reactions to this article, I’m struck by the uniformity of the apparent mainstream take-away. The majority of these reactions seem to have a common thread:
“Listen buddy, I work my ass off! Don’t tell me that I think that I’m a special unicorn!”
It’s an interesting phenomenon that people seem to internalize the descriptions of an obvious generalization, and react as if the author was speaking directly to them. You might say, “But, Nick, he/she is saying our ENTIRE generation acts this way! How dare they!?”
To this sentiment, I would posit two notions for your consideration:
- How does reacting to the broad generalization of inflated individualism with a detailed account of ONE individual experience act as anything but a supporting case for the initial argument?
- Did anyone else, besides me (see what I did there?), walk away from that first article with a sense of culpability being placed with the Baby Boomer generation, and NOT our own?
In my opinion, the article itself was flawed, juvenile, and reaching. It was, however, touching upon some truth. And to completely dismiss the existence of a cultural issue based solely on the presentation of its delivery, or whether or not your specific experience lines up with said issue, is troubling.
Here’s my point: It’s not your fault.
It’s bubbles. And, I don’t mean the fun kind.
We’ve all heard about the “housing bubble”. Some of us, no doubt, remember the “dot com bubble” at the turn of the century. The general idea is that, over a period of time, unrealistic expectations based on unsustainable or even temporary factors create a false sense of security within what is perceived as a dependable upward trend. The bubbles that we’re used to typically come and go within a few years, and maybe even a few decades, and then… cue the Batman TV show graphic for “POW!”. Back to reality.
If you purchased a home in the United States immediately preceding the collapse of the housing market you know all too well how this process works. You paid the price that the home was worth based on the market value at the time. It was not YOUR fault that the housing market collapsed as an individual. And yet, here you are. Like so many Americans, you now find yourself “under water”. You owe, in some cases, FAR more than your home is now worth based on the current post-bubble market value.
Now, regardless of whether or not some people saw this coming, the majority of the country was not privy to the fact that the housing market was about to go bust. As humans, we like a good story. Tracking narrative structures is actually one of the key components that are responsible for the advancement of our species. We weren’t the fastest or the strongest animals, but we could see events play out and estimate. We’re opportunistic observers by nature. Whether it’s tracking a wounded animal for miles at the dawn of our civilization, or selling off stock in a company when certain events indicate it will soon drop … we adapt to our surroundings and the events therein.
The problem with observing is that you need to actually be able to observe. Sometimes trends develop over such a long period of time, that they span one, two… maybe three generations. The issue here is that, over time, the ability to contextualize and decipher these trends becomes harder and harder. Add in the largest leaps in technological advancement in human history, resulting in a fast paced 24 hour-a-day news and information cycle, and you’re dealing with a culture that treats 20 years ago as if it were a separate geological epoch.
What many people may not realize is that our country was not a world power the day after the Declaration of Independence was signed. The founding fathers didn’t roll up to the world stage with a confident swagger as the big man on campus. In fact, our economic power-house stature didn’t really come to fruition until after the close of World War II.
In the aftermath of one of the most horrific chapters in the history of the human race, America found itself as one of the only major players with a still functioning industrial infrastructure. The European continent, which had been running the show for centuries, was physically devastated. With the sudden side-lining of the most powerful nations, America literally had all the room in the world to expand its industry, and therefore, its economy.
The reason I bring this up, is that post-WWII America saw the greatest period of economic growth, by most comparable historical standards, of all time.
Why is this relevant? Because it was a bubble, folks. We’ve had two and a half generations of economic growth. Our grandparents raised our parents with the understanding that “As long as your life is better than mine, I did my job.” We see examples of this in literature, film, music, etc. It was the responsibility of the Baby Boomer generation to “do better”, so as not to make the efforts of their forebears in vain.
Unfortunately, the Baby Boomer generation took this period of economic growth and national stability for granted. Now THAT is a broad generalization. Clearly, I respect the fact that there were and are countless AMAZING individuals throughout that generation that made/are making this world a better place. On the whole, however, that generation ran up the credit card and left us with the bill.
The expectations our parent’s generation had for ours were based solely on their collective experience in a far more economically secure time period. It’s not that things went to Hell in a hand basket. No. It’s that the reality of a resettling global equilibrium and the consequences of a period of inflated growth are catching up to us.
It’s not our fault. But, still, we find ourselves as a generation under water.
How does that all relate to the fact that the original article states we are all special unicorns?
We’re clearly not ALL anything. There are rarely moments in life where you can make a statement about a group of people based on any specific criteria without lumping in some who do not fit the bill.
The point is… we’re dealing with a double edged sword. On one side, we have the stark realities of our prospects in a new and frightening economy. On the other side, we were raised to believe that we were getting the metaphorical keys to the castle by a generation that had the best intentions, which were unfortunately based on a trend which they had no obvious contextual evidence to identify.
So… is it unfair to say, for the most part, that our generation might have an entitlement complex? Despite however many individual examples emerge of those caught under water by no fault of their own…
I find that acknowledging a growing problem among the many is far more bouyant than the exclusionary denial of the few.