I have a problem with the young people these days.
Even though I happen to be one of them.
They call us “The Millennial Generation” because we were born within a few decades of the millennium. Trouble is, a lot of us seem to operate under the assumption that we did the world a favor, simply by doing that.
We feel entitled to better jobs, better healthcare, better benefits, better lives in general, not because we work hard and earn them, but simply because we exist. To be fair, it’s not entirely our own fault. Society DID kind of send us that message. Think about it. Our grandparents grew up in a world where you had to work hard, compete against everyone else who was also working hard, and prove you were worth something, if you wanted respect. In contrast, when I was kid, I routinely got a ribbon or small prize, simply for showing up at a contest! Yep. Just for getting out of bed that morning and managing to attend. It didn’t matter if I’d been preparing for weeks, or had simply decided that day that I didn’t have anything better to do. I got an “award” (if you can call it that) either way.
Now I know all the adults were well-meaning, and their goal was just for everyone to have a good time. And the same well-meaning people are doing the same thing to the kids today. I remember attending a rodeo once, where they had a group of kids “bull-riding” on some smaller, kid-sized animal. (A goat, or a pig, or something. I don’t remember.) Some of them were good at it. They’d obviously worked hard to figure this out. Some of them were…not so good. But at the end, when they handed out the little trophies, guess what? Everybody got one. There was no first place, second place, or third place. Everybody got the exact same trophy, regardless of how well they did. And I’m sure if you’d asked the adults why they did that, they would have said, “So that everyone has a good time.” But let me just say, as someone who’s been in those kid’s shoes…
I didn’t have a good time.
See, finding out that all my hard work meant nothing, and that the fact that I’d spent hours and hours preparing didn’t make me any more successful, in the end, than the kid next to me who was only there because his mother dragged him out of bed, DID NOT make me feel good. If the point is just for everyone to have fun, then why do we need a prize at all?
Answer: We don’t.
An award is supposed to be something unique, that you earn. That’s what makes it special. I mean, what would happen if the army started issuing Medals of Honor with every uniform they handed out? It wouldn’t mean much anymore, would it? If everybody gets one, no matter what they do, than it’s not an honor. It’s a right.
And BAM!!! There you have it. That’s how we ended up feeling entitled. When we were kids they told us we were “all winners” whether we accomplished anything or not. So…why bother trying to accomplish anything at all? Might as well just play video games all day.
Now, hopefully this skewed view on life will gradually wear off as we experience reality. (You don’t get a whole lot of job promotions just for “showing up,” if you hadn’t noticed.) And it’s time we take responsibility, grow up, and start living in the real world, no matter what they told us as kids. We’re adults now. Let’s start acting like it.
But unfortunately, we have a much bigger problem than laziness and entitlement. A problem which once again goes back to this warped idea that we’re somehow the best gift God ever handed the world, simply because we exist. And, in the long run, this problem may turn out to be a lot worse than an over-fondness for video games.
We don’t care enough about the past.
It’s all about now, and what’s the next up-and-coming gadget or idea. We’re committed to things like “embracing the future,” and “not turning back the clock.” Technology is changing so fast that keeping up with it has started to look like a perpetual mad dash toward the closest RadioShack. And too bad for you if you don’t join the sprint. Because you’ll never be able to contact anyone. If you don’t text or Facebook, you are now cut off from the rest of the world. We don’t answer our phones, we don’t listen to our messages, we don’t check our emails. And as to actual real-life mailboxes? How ‘quaint!’
The problem is, we’re so busy looking toward the future and keeping up with the present, that we don’t have time for the past anymore. We don’t have time to read books that haven’t been uploaded to a Kindle yet (if we read any books at all). And we’re just too busy experiencing a virtual reality with our fourteen-thousand “friends” on Facebook to take a few minutes and bake cookies with grandma while we listen to her tell us what it was like to live through the second World War.
And that means, fellow Millennials, that we are in grave danger. An eighteenth century philosopher named Edmund Burke once said that, “Those who don’t know history are doomed to repeat it.”
But how can we know history if we don’t have time to talk to the people who lived it? There are those today who are already denying that the Holocaust ever happened. How is that possible? Probably because they’ve never sat down and talked to the people who lived it. There are soldiers still alive today who freed those camps. There are Holocaust survivors who can tell you first-hand what they experienced. But they’re old now. They may not have smartphones, or be on Facebook, or know how to text.
And they won’t be here forever.
If there’s one thing I’ve learned while researching for Fred and Lily’s story, it’s that the time we have to ask our questions is limited. As I try to craft the story of these two amazing people into a book, I’m constantly reminded that there are far too many things we just don’t know. Far to many questions we can’t get the answers to. Nobody ever thought to ask them. Nobody ever wrote it down. And now they’re both gone, and we’re left sifting through old photos, scraps of writing, and their children’s memories, trying to piece together a lifetime.
But as much as I want to encourage everyone to write down their family’s stories while they can, there’s a lot more at stake here than just preserving family history. We’re talking about an entire generation, who lived through massive turning points in history, and are now melting away before our eyes. I participated in the Remembering WW II event in Linden TN last year, (blogged about it here) and had the honor to meet several WW2 veterans. But their numbers are shrinking every single day. Another decade, and they’ll all be gone. My children will probably never get to speak to these men. My grandchildren certainly will not. And what will happen if we let their memories die with them? If we don’t record the stories, the lessons, the truths that the older generation has to offer, while they’re here and can tell us about them? I’ll tell you. They will disappear forever, and we’ll be left to figure it all out ourselves. Making the same mistakes, fighting the same battles, learning the same lessons the hard way. Again, and again, and again. Because if you’re betting on the fact that we’re somehow more evolved than the generations before us, and will therefore automatically avoid the pitfalls they encountered, I’ve got news for you…
We aren’t. And we won’t.
We are no smarter, no braver, and certainly no more hard working than our grandparents were. So somehow, if we don’t want to repeat the past that they experienced, we’re going to have to find the time to listen. If we don’t want another Holocaust someday, if we don’t want this generation, or the next, or the next, to live through World War III, than we’re going to have to figure out how to sit down on a good old-fashioned couch with a good-old-fashioned glass of tea, untangle our brains from the matrix of social media, and remember how to listen. While they’re still here to listen to.
Because if we don’t do it, Millennials…
Our children won’t have the chance.