A few years ago I helped oversee a rather large intern program for a think tank in Washington, D.C. In addition to the Millennials I was fortunate enough to meet, I also had the luxury of flying all over the country to talk to them on college campuses. Before that, I worked as a substitute teacher in a high school for two years while saving money for graduate school. While many of the kids I met were incredibly nice, it was obvious that the generation they belonged to was setting itself up for failure. Writer Bret Easton Ellis’ new piece for Vanity Fair, “Generation Wuss,” sums up Millenials perfectly.
The entire piece is worth reading, but here is an excerpt:
My huge generalities touch on their over-sensitivity, their insistence that they are right despite the overwhelming proof that suggests they are not, their lack of placing things within context, the overreacting, the passive-aggressive positivity, and, of course, all of this exacerbated by the meds they’ve been fed since childhood by over-protective “helicopter” parents mapping their every move. These are late-end Baby Boomers and Generation X parents who were now rebelling against their own rebelliousness because of the love they felt that they never got from their selfish narcissistic Boomer parents and who end up smothering their kids, inducing a kind of inadequate preparation in how to deal with the hardships of life and the real way the world works: people won’t like you, that person may not love you back, kids are really cruel, work sucks, it’s hard to be good at something, life is made up of failure and disappointment, you’re not talented, people suffer, people grow old, people die. …
When Millennials are criticized […] they seem to collapse into a shame spiral and the person criticizing them is automatically labeled a hater, a contrarian, a troll. And then you have to look at the generation that raised them, that coddled them in praise—gold medals for everyone, four stars for just showing up—and tried to shield them from the dark side of life, and in turn created a generation that appears to be super confident and positive about things but when the least bit of darkness enters into their realm they become paralyzed and unable to process it. …
I’m sympathetic to Generation Wuss and their neurosis, their narcissism and their foolishness—add the fact that they were raised in the aftermath of 9/11, two wars, a brutal recession and it’s not hard to be sympathetic. […] In-fact in order to be an artist, to raise yourself above the din in an over-reactionary fear-based culture that considers criticism elitist, you need to be [caustic and sympathetic]. But this is a hard thing to do because Millennials can’t deal with that kind of cold-eye reality. This is why Generation Wuss only asks right now : please, please, please, only give positive feedback please.
I often wondered if I was going too hard on the Millennials I dealt with while living in the nation’s capital. My military background caused me question whether or not I had unrealistic expectations of how they should react to criticism. Now, I realize that any occasional friction between us had more to do with their own cloistered upbringing than a lack of empathy on my part.
Given what we know about Generation Wuss, it isn’t a shocker that they flocked to the “we are the ones we’ve been waiting for” messaging of then-Senator Obama in 2008, and it is no surprise that they again returned to vote for him in droves in 2012 — despite “overwhelming proof” that they had made a grievous mistake.
What will be interesting to see is whether NSA spying scandals, the rise of Islamic State, the collapse of Libya into a terrorist jungle gym, the annexation of Crimea, and whatever other calamities that befall the U.S. over the next two years will change the collective Millennial mindset. Is facing reality an option, or will they fail realize that it is a bad idea to adopt public policy created by men who presume they are infallible geniuses? There is a good chance Millennials will retreat into Reddit and Buzzfeed and Facebook streams with friends who are always ready to spoon them fuel for the ego, but perhaps not.
If Millennials are half as smart as they seem to think they are, then they will listen to what Mr. Ellis is accurately saying about their shortcomings. If they do not heed his advice, then they can expect many painful years ahead.