Over the past week, I was bracketed by two conversations which had the most profound impact on my outlook. For too long, I cynically joined the crowd in blaming the younger generation for being apathetic and casting aspersions their way for incessantly complaining. But after talking to an Ethiopian elder and then hearing a rousing speech yesterday by young lady who had just graduated college, I realized the error of my ways. So consider this an open apology to all millennials and the younger generation.
This is not meant to assign blame as if Generation X or those prior are somehow culpable for the condition we find ourselves in as a society. I’m not sure where the disconnect happened–at which point we let stasis become the new normal–but I know blaming millennials and the younger generation is akin to blaming the victim. Though the two exchanges that moved me to write this article were both articulated by Ethiopians, in reality what I observed and thus presenting before you is one that impacts most nations throughout this world and especially our society here in America.
The Ethiopian elder who I had the privilege to talk to was a most learned and cultured of people who once served as an ambassador to the UN a long time ago and was also a journalist before he “retired”. When I asked this gentleman what he now does for a living (I am withholding his name as I was not able to get in touch with him in order to ask permission to share his identity) he told me his job is to step aside and to act as an adviser and elder to the younger generation who should be empowered.
Hearing this gentlemen say this sent shock waves through my cortex. We live in an age where too many in the older generation want to be in direct competition with the younger generation. Everybody wants to be the leader; people given the microphone are unwilling to give it up to the next person. Very few want to empower others; too many want power for themselves. The age of social media has fed nitro to our narcissism as the quest to get more likes and comments is fostering a society that thrives on getting the last word. Conversations are almost made impossible in this paradigm; few want to listen, most want to prove points.
It was thus humbling to hear a man who has more knowledge and wisdom than most people I have ever met in my life telling me that his job going forward was to empower leaders instead of thirsting to be the leader himself. We talked for nearly two hours about the state of affairs in Ethiopia and at each point he kept saying that the hope lies in the younger generation having more of a vested stake in the future of the country. Not once did he blame the younger generation; if anything he stated that his generation should learn to pass the baton to those who have amassed enough energy and intellectual capital to make a difference.
As if the conversation with the Ethiopian elder was not inspiring enough, yesterday at a church gathering, a young lady stood up to talk about her generation and how parents should not easily give in to convenience. What she said was so moving; she eloquently insisted that both our heritage and our nation’s well-being as a whole depend on the insistence of parents to teach their children regardless of how much their children rebel. She was thankful that her mother refused to give up no matter how much she gave her mother fits growing up. In the most moving part of the speech she noted:
“Do not give in to the temptation to give them a smart phone or an iPad in order to lull them into silence, let them cry and shout if they must but insist on teaching your children our culture. They won’t understand it at the time but they will be thankful later”.
The passion and urgency behind the appeal by the Ethiopian young lady almost moved me to tears and furthermore moved me this morning to write this letter of apology. It’s not the fault of the younger generation for they are the victims of a continued mismanagement of the generations which came before them. For too long, we have borrowed from the future in order to finance our life of materialism. Debt upon debt is amassed in order to propagate perpetual growth; sadly a society that preaches individual attainment above collective advancement is one that will in time collapse on itself.
For the first time in America’s history, the generation that is growing up now will not do better than their parents. In all honesty, our nation and this system of global capital gluttony hit its apex in 2008 and we are now devolving into economic chaos (read Unity or Dissolution). It sounds counter-intuitive to say this as the markets are at all time highs and Wall Street is yet celebrating wealth upon wealth—count it all irrational exuberance. This is August of 1929 all over again as media outlets talk of perpetual growth. Google “October 29th 1929” to see what happens when irrational exuberance intersects with cognitive dissonance. Moreover, if you feel economically secure at this moment and your financial situation reflects the euphoria on Wall Street, please raise your hand. Crickets!Though the two people whom I had the honor of hearing from were Ethiopian, the issues I speak about impact most of us irrespective of location or nationality. From Ethiopia to America and beyond, we are letting selfishness and greed be our moral compass. The quest to attain more and more possessions and attention is leading us into the abyss. Perhaps instead of bashing millennials and blaming them for the ills of the world, which they are not responsible for, we should do our level best to empower them—failing that move out of their way. It is the height of absurdity to say they are entitled after most of the pie was eaten and they are left to nibble on crumbs that is left on the floor. How about we empower them and the generations that comes after instead of belittling them.
To millennials and generation Z, take this letter as an open apology from a person who is a generation before you. Moses freed the Jews but he could not get them to the promise land. A generation scarred by injustice can’t lead a people to freedom—we are too stuck looking re-litigating the past to move forward. It takes a younger generation free from the wounds of the past to get a people to the promise land. As Joshua delivered the Jews to freedom, here is to hoping that you—the Joshua generation—save us from ourselves. #Apology2Millennials
“Hell is yourself and the only redemption is when a person puts himself aside to feel deeply for another person.” ~ Tennessee Williams
If you appreciated this write up and you too want to empower the younger generation instead of casting aspersions upon them, share this article on social media using #Apology2Millennials
Check out the Ghion Cast below where I discuss the role that each one of us play and how we too can say “send me” in order to change this world for the better for ourselves and most importantly for our children.
Originally from Ethiopia with roots to Atse Tewodros II, Lij Teodrose is a former community organizer whose writing was incorporated into Barack Obama's South Carolina primary victory speech in 2008. He pivoted away from politics and decided to stand for collective justice after experiencing the reality of the forgotten masses. His writing defies conventional wisdom and challenges readers to look outside the constraints of labels and ideologies that serve to splinter the people. Lij Teodrose uses his pen to give a voice to the voiceless and to speak truth to power.