OTTAWA, Ont. July 10, 2016/ Troy Media/ – “Youth, today! They’re lazy and entitled because everyone received participation trophies!” is a quip millennials hear so often that it has nearly lost all meaning.
But in fact, this joke points to a much larger issue – one that extends beyond millennials to all of society. Martin Luther King Jr. famously said, “True compassion is more than flinging a coin to a beggar; it comes to see that an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring.” Calling out my generation on its ‘delicate flower persona’ ignores how it emerged in the first place: from older generations and big government.
Most articles I’ve read in defence of millennials argue one of two things: our ‘failure to launch’ is because of the unprecedented combination of a bad economy, high housing prices and skyrocketing student debt; or our generation is not all that different than any previous one and complaining about us is the equivalent of crotchety Grampa Simpson shaking his fist at a cloud.
I don’t disagree with either argument, but they miss the larger point.
The formation of the millennial generation began long before any of its members were born. As baby boomers expected more from government by way of pensions and social programs, government expanded to keep up with the growing demand. Unsurprisingly, with this growth came overregulation and micromanagement. The population as a whole was viewed as too inept and unprepared to make personal decisions – it was better to leave that to the government.
Sound familiar, parents? Enter millennials, stage left.
Being born into a world of big government – which sees its role as protecting us from ourselves – led us to grow up comfortably – if not entitled. No risk might mean no reward … but also no scraped knees! Many of us were bubble-wrapped from failure or injury and were given perks and assistance without having to ask for it.
This has extended into adulthood. Think about when Starbucks adjusted its rewards system, making it slightly more difficult for a customer to receive a free drink. People were outraged. “How dare Starbucks? I’ll never go there again!” Sorry to break it to you, but that free latte wasn’t actually yours in the first place.
One might think that this safety net would lead to more risk-taking. But just as corporate welfare protects poor business decision-making from failure, it also leads to less calculated risk-taking and innovation. Why change, grow and learn from your mistakes when you don’t have to? When the status quo keeps people comfortable, there is little incentive to challenge it. Youth are so isolated from discomfort (think of the no-penalty rule in Ontario high schools for late assignments) that they are under the self-fulfilling illusion that we are simply too special to fail.
The worst part is that when kids do take chances and show ambitious entrepreneurial spirit, they are shot down. Look no further than five- and seven-year-old Adela and Eliza Andrews of Ottawa, who ran a lemonade stand before being shut down for not having a permit. Or the swing that 11- and eight-year-old Reilly and Gracie McMillan of Calgary built for their neighbourhood on a city tree in front of their house that was removed.
These incidents may seem small but they occurring every day across Canada, in our homes, schools and in society at large.
We must do away with our shield-like culture, both in how we raise children and how we demand the government treat us as adults. Until we realize that our societal shift towards entitlement and governments’ overbearing micromanagement aligns directly with how we criticize our youth, nothing will change.
The Calgary Sun reported that, according to a city official, Reilly and Gracie’s swing was removed because, “If you can imagine you were the tree and you put your arm out and someone put some ropes onto you and started rubbing back and forth on a swing, that would start to chafe you.”
That’s right. Apparently, we have sufficiently bubble-wrapped millennials from discomfort – now it’s time to protect plants from any uneasiness caused by rope burn.
Looks like generation tree won’t make it out of their parents’ basements either.
Lauren Millar is a second-year law student at the University of Ottawa and Institute for Liberal Studies Fellow at the Canadian Constitution Foundation. She is an alumnus of the Ontario Legislature Internship Programme and Trinity College at the University of Toronto.
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