The Independent | Posted: Friday, July 20, 2012 12:47 am
There’s a famous line from the film “American Beauty” that is often repeated at my house with a heavy dose of sarcasm.
“This country’s going straight to hell,” one of us will say with a gravely barking voice quoting Colonel Frank Fitts, whenever a talking head on TV screams that our democracy is being irreparably damaged by something they dislike or fear.
But last week an elderly man actually said those words to me, following a heated discussion about health care reform.
Then, he added, “Your generation with your heads always stuck in your cell phones or a video game is only going to continue ruining the country I knew and loved. I’m glad I’ll be gone before it gets any worse.”
I was so completely shocked at his outburst and placement of blame that I couldn’t immediately reply.
After days of continual thought, I now have my rebuttal.
I should have said, “It’s a shame you feel that way because my generation is going to make America better and stronger. I’m sorry you won’t be here to see it happen.”
I’m not nearly as old as he is, so maybe I don’t truly understand what he feels has been lost in his lifetime. I do believe, wholeheartedly, that my generation, Generation Y also known as The Millennials, will make America even better and stronger that we are now.
I believe it simply because we must, if it is to remain the brightest beacon of hope and freedom in the entire world.
My generation of Americans, born between 1978 and the mid-1990s, is all too aware of the tangled web of problems we face as a nation and the challenges we must overcome. I must point out that we haven’t been steering the ship up to this point.
Every generation is shaped by the world they are born into and the events that take place during their youth. Those experiences shape their collective identity and drive their aspirations as adults.
My generation has been shaped by trauma, loss and adversity.
Most of us were thrust into adulthood on 9/11, and it is my generation — my friends and cousins among them — who filled the ranks of the military in the greatest numbers to fight the two wars that followed. As a result, we have thousands of genuine American heros among us whose courage, determination and grit can only be assets as we begin taking the leadership reigns of this nation.
Most of us were also just beginning our careers when the Great Recession began and it is my generation that has suffered the highest unemployment rates as a result. Faced with so few traditional opportunities we’ve instead created our own. Many call us the most entrepreneurial generation yet.
And although we are more likely to still be living with our parents than in own our own homes, due to the housing crisis, the recession has taught us to save, spend wisely and reduce our debts now instead of as we approach retirement age.
We are also more wired and internationally connected than the generations before us in an ever-shrinking world. We are more environmentally conscious, more likely to volunteer and studies show we feel a greater sense of civic responsibility due in part to the trauma of 9/11.
We also support gender and sexual equality in overwhelming numbers, are the most racially diverse generation in American history and are more tolerant of immigrants.
The best thing about us is that we are truly just getting started. We are only beginning to contribute in a meaningful way to this country. We have many decades to go.
Only time will tell how Generation Y will have shaped America for the unnamed generations behind us. I feel confident we won’t find ourselves in the fiery pits anytime soon.