When Our Parents Criticize Us, They Insult Themselves

shutterstock_527925673.jpg

More pejoratives have been cast against millennials than almost any other generation. We have been called everything from entitled to snobby, lazy, flighty, and coddled. There are certainly individuals who are worthy of all these insults, but they are hardly appropriate for an entire generation of people. We deal with it for a few reasons. First, most of us are just out there doing our thing and we don’t pay attention to those who are just trying to bring us down. Second, we understand that every generation maligns the one that comes after it. Third, and perhaps most importantly, you raised us not to let things like this hurt us.

That’s the point here. When our parents’ generation criticizes our perceived lack of drive, ambition, or will to succeed, what are they really saying? Who gave us the cliché “participation trophies”? We didn’t ask for those. You, as our parents, uncles, and aunts, handed them to us. You thought they would be good for us, and that they would become part of a healthy and well-balanced childhood. In many cases, you wanted to be different and more involved parents than your parents were. None of these were bad ideas, really. But they were your ideas, and if you make fun of us for having a participation trophy, aren’t you really just making fun of yourself for giving it to us in the first place?

The qualities you ascribe to us did not magically appear out of thin air. Those of us who lack ambition may very well never have been made to work for anything as a young person. Perhaps their parents never told them to get a summer job. Maybe their parents sent them to summer camps all the way through high school, rather than giving them a taste of the real world before casting them into its cold clutches. My parents certainly didn’t do that, and I consider myself to be a relatively well-adjusted adult as a result. Then again, my parents never lambasted millennials for being lazy or entitled. Their kids weren’t snobby or pretentious. They knew they were good parents, and thus they had nothing to make fun of.

Baby boomer/Gen X parents, take a hard look at yourselves and ask why you view us as such failures. Do you honestly believe that your parenting was an unmitigated success and we developed these negative qualities starting the minute we turned eighteen? That’s just not how developmental psychology works. Of course, I admit that this line of reasoning is not perfect. Some people are just beyond the reach of good role models. But most of us are not. The truth is that many of our parents could use a same dose of the personal responsibility that they implore us to cultivate. It may just be the case that some of our qualities are your fault. After all, nobody’s perfect.

There You Go Again: Trans Enlistment and the Cycle of Inequality

shutterstock_541540822

Today, the world was brutally reminded of the inequality that continues to ravage the transgender community when the President announced a plan to ban transgender individuals from enlisting with the United States military. The policy is a reversal of President Obama’s elimination of the ban on transgender troops. Responses ranged from outrage to ho-hum nonchalance. I will leave the legal analysis of the policy to more qualified individuals.

Instead, it seems important to discuss the fact that none of this is new. The concept of a cycle of inequality has been around for quite some time. Anyone who is a member of a disparaged demographic knows that discrimination tends to follow a similar pattern. This is not, of course, to say that everyone’s suffering is equal. There are clearly perceptible differences between, for example, women’s liberation and the civil rights movement. However, the arguments used to deny oppressed communities of their rights start to sound awfully familiar after a while. Within the few decades alone, we have seen substantial movements among three communities just for the fight for the freedom of their fellow citizens. These movements have involved women, gay and lesbian individuals, and transgender individuals.

How did those bigoted arguments sound? Did they all use words like “expense”, “cohesion”, and “burden”? Did they all attempt to instill fear in the heart of every American, forged by the idea that the military somehow might not be able to function effectively with this change? The answer to all of those questions is, of course, a resounding “yes”. Yet every time an issue like this presents itself, people seem to have trouble remembering that we have been down this road before. We have stirred the same proverbial soup with a different proverbial spoon.

So why do we do it? Certainly, complicated psychological phenomena are at play. Cognitive dissonance has been widely studied, and there exists a veritable mountain of literature on the topic. I am sure that I am wholly unqualified to comment on the scientific aspects of this cycle of discrimination. However, having heard entire groups of people argue against gays and lesbians serving in the military, it seems as though most of them have one belief in common: They’re convinced that they’re right this time.

Most people can acknowledge that it was wrong for the military to ban women and segregate by race. As time goes on, more and more people are admitting that the ban on openly gay individuals serving in the military was also a horrible idea. But many of those same people will likely be quick to defend the idea that transgender individuals should not be allowed in the military. The cycle of inequality is starting to move on to the next demographic.

It turns out that bigotry is a lot like predicting the end of the world. You can run the numbers all you want, and others will keep proving you wrong. But you can admit that your previous guess was wrong while still holding fast to the belief that your current prediction is ironclad. That’s how discrimination propagates itself. At one point, no one wanted black people to have any rights. Then several hard-fought battles were won in order to free blacks, allow them to vote, allow them to marry white people, and so on and so forth. The fight for equal rights for black people persists to this day.

But most people have moved on. The cycle never fully completes itself before moving on to its next victim. It’s closer to a trick metal hoop with a small piece cut out to allow another hoop to intertwine with it. The vast majority of people do not espouse the horrid philosophies concerning black people that were all too commonplace less than 160 years ago. This is something that should be celebrated. But the cycle seems to be a force innate to whole societies. We didn’t give up on discriminating against groups of people. We just moved on to a new group.

Movements passed and rights issued to those who should have never had to fight for them in the first place. Recently, we’ve seen substantial progress in the area of gay and lesbian rights. But the cycle made sure that the transgender community was in the on-deck circle. The most shocking part of all this is not that the trans community has become the next victim, but that people can see two similar struggles happen so close to each other, and fail to connect the dots. Don’t Ask Don’t Tell has been dead for less than 6 years, yet opponents of transgender military service can’t see the parallels. Or worse, perhaps they see the parallels, but fervently believe that this is different. It’s likely a mixture of the two.

Inquiring minds wonder exactly how we can stop this. Can we put an end to the cycle? I believe that the best way to destroy this seemingly addictive way of thinking is to make people aware of its existence. People don’t like to think they’re wrong, so screaming and fighting likely solves nothing. But they will be more likely to respond if they can see the connection between one type of bigotry and others like it. So let’s keep talking. Dinner table conversations can often do more work than protests and marches. Maybe then we’ll be able to see that there is truly nothing new under the sun.

Let’s Listen for a Minute: Thoughts on the Charlie Gard Debate

shutterstock_269738930

People around the world heard the heartbreaking tale of Charlie Gard and instantly began forming opinions. The infant, who was born with a genetic defect called Mitochondrial DNA Depletion Syndrome, became the subject of numerous news stories and angry rants as his case wound its way through the British legal system. No matter what conclusions people reached, it quickly became clear that we all had more opinions than knowledge.

The crux of the case had to do with whether Charlie’s parents would be allowed to take him to the United States for an experimental treatment. Charlie is currently on life support as a result of his illness. The controversy arose when his parents sought to have the hospital release him into their custody so that they could attempt to secure the treatment for their son. The UK hospital had previously determined that nothing could be done for Charlie, and obtained a judgment from the court allowing them to remove him from life support. A battle ensued as Charlie’s parents sought to keep Charlie on life support long enough to pursue the experimental treatment.

Ultimately, as reported by CNN, the Gard’s withdrew their legal contest after the latest medical evidence showed that the proposed treatment would have little, if any, effect on Charlie’s advanced disease. As of this writing, the Gards are attempting to persuade the court to allow them to take their child home to live out his final moments.

As we often see during these highly public fights involving terminal illness and life support, public opinion surrounding Charlie Gard’s case became incredibly polarized. Some viewed the right of Charlie’s parents to fight for treatment as paramount. Others favored the hospital’s prerogative to withdraw life support from what it had considered to be a terminal patient. Both sides have fair arguments, and I cannot attempt to come to any useful conclusion within the bounds of one blog post.

However, this may be a instance in which both sides have such good points that we just need to step aside and listen. That is why these problems are incredibly difficult. It’s very easy to say “Can’t they just be cool and let the parents take their son to the U.S. for treatment?” But it’s also fair to acknowledge the fact that families are often highly reluctant to take their loved ones off life support if there is even a one-in-a-million chance that a radical treatment could save them. Even though we would all jump at these odds when presented with the alternative, it puts the medical system in a tough spot if they comply with all of these wishes. If hospitals provide resources, and all doctors involved have agreed that a patient is terminal, when is it moral for a hospital to discontinue life support?

These questions involve highly technical issues of law and medicine. Further, they require experience with a patient that very relatively few people have ever seen in person. Yet, we all feel the need to violently opine on a matter that we do not understand. Even the vast majority of doctors and lawyers have not read Charlie’s file. Unless we are actually familiar with the case, how can any of us say what the definitive answer is? We don’t know his lab values, and most of us don’t know anything about his disease.

I am certainly nowhere near qualified to give an opinion on Charlie Gard’s case. However, I do realize that problems of medical ethics are rarely easy. It’s good to listen to the opinions of experts, as those will likely be the next best thing to the opinions of the actual treating physicians. Apart from that, it’s about time we acknowledged how little we know. We need to see how important it is to sit back and take in the facts rather than jumping to conclusions based on headlines. If we don’t, we risk looking like the fools we become when we ignore the complexities of a difficult social issue.

Mom’s Lessons on Politics: Two Wrongs Don’t Make a Right

shutterstock_534306652

In the wake of the recent American presidential election, we have seen politics become more polarized than perhaps any other time in history. People have dug in their heels, and are not prepared to budge on any issue. Even the seemingly minor political points have turned into life-or-death debates for fear of losing precious ground. In all fairness, we have brought this on ourselves. Minor political points now have life-or-death consequences. Federal judges were once largely confirmed unanimously. Now, the Senate has gone nuclear just to confirm a conservative Supreme Court justice. What will come next?

However, I fear we have now valued these small political victories too highly. Are our political platforms worth anything if we have to turn our backs on our values just to score a win? Both sides of the aisle have burned extreme amounts of territory simply to scorn each other. Certainly, politics have always been dirty. But with the introduction of 24-hour news and instant access to political opinion and rhetoric, it is much easier to abuse the processes we once held sacred. We have seen countless examples of this somewhat recent trend.

Let’s take, for instance, the recent fat-shaming of the current president. In fact, it seems that even Pope Francis himself may have felt the need to comment on the weight of our new commander-in-chief. Whether one is a fan of the current administration or not, society has taken a turn against fat-shaming as of late. And why shouldn’t it have? In our heart of hearts, we can agree that it is not a nice thing to make fun of someone’s weight. Yet, it’s okay for people to make fun of the president’s weight? Why? I think for most people, the answer is something to the effect of, “Well, he has brought it on himself by the way he treats other people.”

Perhaps the current leader of the free world has not engendered much sympathy with his Twitter rants and questionable choice of political rhetoric. But most of our mothers taught us that two wrongs don’t make a right. Who are we to disagree? Also, if there is genuinely so much wrong with the administration, shouldn’t there be plenty of fodder to attack on the merits? Perhaps cheap shots are just easier for people. They always have been. My point here is not that people are necessarily deserving of sympathy despite behaving in reprehensible ways. Rather, we do ourselves a disservice by stooping to such low levels.

This is a relatively brief post because I believe the topic is one that most of us actually agree on. People, for the most part, are well aware that it’s better to be kind to people than it is to be mean. But we need to realize that vitriolic rhetoric poisons philosophies as well as individuals. Can we really stand up and be proud to call ourselves liberals, conservatives, or anything else, if we abandon those values in pursuit of petty posturing? I think we all know that answer to that.

Millennials and the Paralysis of Choice

shutterstock_466547954

Millennials have been accused of being incredibly indecisive as a whole. More and more, the perception of our generation as being wayward and non-committal is poisoning our professional image. However, this stereotype seems to have a kernel of truth. We’re certainly not lazy. We can’t afford to be. But some of us have a certain amount of difficulty deciding what we want to do with our lives. I wanted to offer a few thoughts on the origin of this phenomenon.

First, millennials lack the established career pipelines that members of previous generations had available to them. The old proverb of the hard-working person who went from the mailroom to the boardroom is no longer realistic. The entire idea of “working your way up” is less and less feasible. Between an overwhelming lack of social mobility and the overall lower availability of high-paying jobs, it’s hard to see the light at the end of the tunnel. Therefore, we are forced to blaze our own paths. Those paths are riddled with conditionals, “what-ifs”, and self-doubt. Each turn requires a completely new analysis. This constant assessment is overwhelming, and can cause us to take longer to decide what would fully satisfy us in a career.

This is not to say that the above approach is always the right way to handle things. We could certainly afford to make some choices faster rather than making an entire decision tree for every aspect of our lives. But, despite all that, we certainly cannot be accused of not thinking things through when it comes to big-picture decisions. We just may not be arriving at those conclusions as quickly as our parents might like us to.

Second, we were raised differently than previous generations. I personally believe our parents were raised with the idea that they ultimately were not that important in the grand scheme of things. This lack of self-confidence led them to push down their natural curiosity and settle for stable rather than personally fulfilling careers. Our parents did not want us to feel the way that they were made to feel. As with many rebellions, some went too far. They told us we could do anything. They told us we were the best. High self-esteem is certainly something worth pursuing, but it can lead us to think we would be perfectly suited for any career. Our ability to self-select has therefore decreased substantially. The bevy of options we perceive as being available to us leads us to take more time to pick one.

Third, many of us have access to resources that our parents and grandparents could not even dream of. While poverty still runs rampant and income inequality is growing, many families have become the beneficiaries of those who were able to “make it out” decades ago. Factory workers had kids who scratched and clawed their way medical school or law school. The sons and daughters of those doctors and lawyers were given the proverbial world. Many of them had their college paid for and were told to pick careers that were fulfilling rather than high-paying. That advice was absolutely solid, but it led to unrealistic expectations for many of us. We had to learn the value of a dollar on our own, and that lesson took longer to sink in. None of that, of course, is necessarily our fault. It’s also not our parents’ fault. Rather, it’s a disease of plenty that takes time to work through. Our perceived indecisiveness is merely a symptom, not a permanent disability. We’ll get there.

All of this is to say that we millennials are working our way through relatively uncharted territory. If the rest of society could put itself in our shoes for a minute and realize that we inherited a completely different world than previous generations did, maybe they would understand us a little more. In any event, writing us off as flaky and irresolute is neither productive nor fair. The characteristics that older generations seek in us certainly cannot be cultivated by shaming us into conforming. We will forge our own path, and we will do it in our own time. Until then, we just need a minute.

7 Reasons Millennials Aren’t Getting Married

Being recently married, I could not help but think that relatively few of my friends have taken that next step. Some haven’t found the right person, and others are in long-term relationships, but don’t feel the need to get married. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it’s certainly a visible trend. I’m not the only one who’s noticing. Millennials are getting married at a far lower rate than previous generations. Here are 7 reasons why:

 

1. WE CAN’T AFFORD IT

shutterstock_561941062

Let’s face it: Marriage is expensive. Unless you were blessed with a high-paying job or relatives who can afford to pay for a large portion of your wedding, chances are you’re going to struggle a bit to come up with the money. And that’s just for the ceremony. Many millennials are saying that they are delaying marriage because the ring is too expensive. No matter where you turn, marriage costs money.

 

2. WE NEED TO FOCUS ON OUR CAREERS

shutterstock_413845555

Millennials inherited one of the most crushingly depressing job markets since the Great Depression. Luckily for us, it came just in time for so many of us to graduate from college and attempt to fare for ourselves in the real world. With the millstone of student loans tied to our necks, we have to do everything we can to try to keep any job we manage to secure. With job security being more the exception than the rule these days, it takes time to feel comfortable enough with your professional life to even consider settling down.

 

3. WE DON’T FEEL THE NEED TO SIGN ON THE DOTTED LINE

shutterstock_326350418

The fact that millennials aren’t getting married in droves doesn’t mean that the idea of romance has died with our generation. Many of us are in fulfilling, long-term relationships. Tinder hasn’t completely destroyed our ability to commit. But we’ve all seen it fail, and we’ve seen the disastrous consequences that come with that failure. Rather than put everything on the line, millennials are choosing to remain in long-term relationships without marrying. The idea of entering into a contractual relationship that involves the government just isn’t all that attractive to large swaths of our generation. Who knew?

 

4. WE’RE SAVING FOR SOMETHING

shutterstock_249974521

As I mentioned above, marriage is expensive. Many of us feel that we can’t have a meaningful wedding ceremony if we can’t even afford a car to drive ourselves to the reception. Living paycheck to paycheck doesn’t lend itself well to laying down thousands of dollars for wedding cake and DJs. The down payment on that new car is just so much more appealing, and understandably so.

 

5. WE’RE NOT DONE BEING YOUNG

shutterstock_557073697

Marriage represents a substantial step toward full-fledged adulthood and independence. Many of us just aren’t ready to admit to ourselves that our young adulthood is over. Sure, young adults get married all the time. But there is a certain, if not fully describable, change that happens when you take the plunge. Some people just are not ready to give up the late-night Netflix binges and pizza runs. There’s nothing wrong with that. Millennial, know thyself.

 

6. WE DON’T HAVE HOUSES

shutterstock_519502300

Marriage allows you to hold yourself out to the world as a family unit. But home ownership is one of the things that previous generations have come to associate with marriage. Once seen as a pillar of fully-developed adulthood, a house has traditionally been viewed as the ideal place to develop your identity as a married couple and to start a family. But many millennials cannot afford a house. Further, many have no interest in owning a home and assuming the various costs that come with it. As a result, it could be difficult to make the commitment that marriage entails without a home base to call your own.

 

7. WE WANT TO SEE THE WORLD

shutterstock_413464489

The world is more connected than ever before. We can see images of the Eiffel Tower with the click of a mouse, and travel around the world virtually with Google Maps. But rather than quenching the inherent human need for exploration, technology feeds the craving. We want to go and experience the great places we see on the internet day in and day out. In the minds of many millennials, marriage represents the end of one’s ability to travel anywhere on a whim. It’s difficult to give that up.

The Game of Struggle: First Roll

shutterstock_398418100Congratulations. You are in the vast majority of people who did not spin the magical ten 1s in a row necessary to be placed on the privileged track in The Game of Struggle. Welcome to the club. Most people in the world are here.

We’ll start off your first roll with leaving college. You are already fairly privileged to even be in that position, but we wanted the game to be at least a little fun. Your degree cost you $100,000, and your student loan servicer expects payment within six spins. But that’s Future You’s problem. Enjoy this spin while you have it.

You advance two spaces, and you get to see what your latest life event is. The card reads “Your car needs a new engine. Pay $2,500 for a new engine, or take out a loan for a new car.” Your student loan balance hovers over you like the foreboding storm cloud it is. So, you decide to add $2,500 to it rather than the $20,000 it would take to buy a new car.

At least you have your shiny new college degree. It had better be pretty shiny for $100,000. Unfortunately, the rules of the game state that you can’t get a job for at least ten more spins. It turns out those employers want you to get experience before they can give you a job that would…well…give you experience. Also, once your student loans come due, you have to pay an additional $2,000 in interest every four spins.

Also, the jobs won’t be that glamorous. The economy just isn’t what it used to be. You’ll get an entry-level job eventually, but promotions will be doled out by chance rather than merit. Raises depend on the job, with most jobs only telling you that you should feel lucky to even be there. All of that will come when you even get a job. Remember, ten spins. For now, enjoy the complimentary unpaid internship that comes standard with every college degree in The Game of Struggle.

The rules of game dictate that non-privileged persons must start out living in an apartment with at least two roommates (one if you don’t live in the city). As a result, you lose $700 in rent every four spins. You can only get a house after getting the proper card, and rolling three ones in a row. Buckle up, it’ll be a while.

So welcome to The Game of Struggle. I know that it probably hasn’t been fun so far, and I don’t suspect it’ll get much better in the near future. But keep your chin up. The lucky few who rolled ten 1s in a row didn’t have anything given to them, right? You can get there if you just believe in your ability to roll ten 1s in a row, and work incredibly hard to do it.