Stop Hating on Millennials

I’m done listening to older generations bitch about Millennials (born 1981-2000). It’s time to take stock of a few items that apparently have gone unnoticed by some Gen X-ers (my generation) & Baby Boomers. For ease of reading, I’ll use numerals and letters, easier to refer back to for “older folks” ;).

  1. The majority of these young folks have come into adulthood in the years just preceding and following 9/11. If you think that they were less affected because they were too young to understand the magnitude of that event, think again. If you think they would be able to shake off the feelings in a few years, forgetting how much our society changed on that day, you’re wrong. If you think the wars in Afghanistan & Iraq wouldn’t mean much to those who didn’t actually step foot on the battlefield, guess again. They have experienced just as much psychological stress as the rest of us, if not more. Their lives changed in dramatic ways just as they were supposed to be solidifying a trajectory for adulthood. And yes, many of us have individually gone through major changes, difficulties, chaos, but as a generational experience, this was pretty huge.
  2. They were implored to get all the education they could get. They had to be able to compete on a global stage, they needed to spend countless hours studying so that they might score high enough on the ACT/SAT to get into the best college with the best programs (and this is where we see the rapid increase in the segregating of the students into “tracks”, another issue that affected them intergenerationally). They were pushed not just to succeed but to excel, they had to be the best, or at least amongst the best. Simultaneously, they were being introduced to all the new technologies of the day and told they must learn how It works because It is the future. The stress that this placed upon them was immense.
  3. Not everyone went to college, but that doesn’t mean they weren’t getting smart as well. Rigor was part of the K-12 program; and along with the life events they experienced, they received the best public education that our country had ever offered. So in addition to the smarty pants’ who were getting a B.A./B.S. there were a lot of intelligent young people with a high school diploma running around the country. This did help them, initially, the mid to late 1990’s offered a pretty strong job market and gave this group hope that the future held the same promise for them that it did for their parents and grandparents. If only they knew what was coming.
  4. College costs: Along with getting as much out of high school as they could, they were strongly encouraged to get a college degree. I don’t think everybody needed/needs a college degree but in today’s world, some sort of degree (2-year, 4-year, graduate, etc) is more often required for many jobs, so they did. If college costs had risen at rates that were similar to the rest of our consumer goods, they would have been ok, but that wasn’t the case. Between 1980 and 2014 the average cost of tuition at a 4 year institution rose by 260 percent. That’s a lot of dough. So they coughed it up, or more likely, borrowed it. Not a big deal though, because in America, we can count on economic growth like we experienced in the 1990s, with the job market doing great, no worries—except, that didn’t last.
  5. After 9/11, Congress backed George W. Bushes plan to cut taxes (2003), his second big tax reduction and this one while two wars were being waged. The stupidity of such an act belies the common sense of a fifth grader. This was not the kind of thing that would benefit a forthcoming generation (skyrocketing deficits and all).
  6. The economy stagnated as did job growth in the Bush (43) era, until it stopped stagnating, and the bottom fell out. The housing market is most certainly a significant factor in this episode and its long-term consequences are still being felt today. Many Millennials are nervous about investing in a home as they can’t say for sure that:   A) it’s a good investment  B) not to mention their student loans C) and many are working jobs that are long on benefits (like free pizza fridays) but short on actual wages, and D) depending on location, there may not be a whole lot of affordable housing (rentals) which tends to have an effect on previously affordable homes (drives prices up).
  7. Jobs: What happened to all the jobs. Well, in addition to the economy collapsing in 2007…’08…’09… We lost a lot of jobs in the prior 25 years. Some businesses wanted to take advantage of cheaper labor overseas. Some needed to downsize or rightsize to account for market trends and new technology. Others found newer, more efficient methods and were able to increase productivity without increasing payroll (also known as: hey, I got new responsibilities (formerly Ted’s responsibilities), and without a pay raise, woo-hoo, they must really like me!).
  8. Speaking of student loans (4,6-B), this is one area that the government could most certainly do something about. It is in the best interest of everyone to have an electorate that is well educated (regardless of what type of work you do, you should be smart about it). Student loan interest rates, via Federal loan programs are currently set between 3.76% – 6.31%, and private loans can be several percentage points higher. Decreasing these rates to 1.5% – 3% would go a long way to cutting down on the total cost and the length of time required to pay back the loans, which means more money into the local economies, more money into savings/retirement, more money into the kids/grandkids college savings accounts. Having large debt, at a young age, is stressful; and more stressful when the good paying jobs are in short order.
  9. Student loans part II, or college tuition: Colleges need to keep the lights on, pay the professors, grounds and maintenance engineers, purchase the newest equipment (especially important in healthcare, manufacturing, computer technology, and aerospace courses), provide some sort of space for living, congregating, studying, and building camaraderie; but many schools have gone overboard on the extra amenities for the sake of attracting the “best & brightest”. This, along with bloated administrations and ridiculous salaries for the coaches of the ball teams, leads to costs being outlandish. And it would be easy to argue that it’s all worth it, if we still lived in an era of plenty; plenty-o-jobs, plent-o-salary, plenty-o-benefits, plenty-o-help for those in need, but that’s just not the world we’re living in.
  10. The perfect storm of the aforementioned crash of the U.S. economy (6), the housing market bubble popping (6), the loss of jobs over the prior 25 years (7), and student loan debts/college costs quickly rising (4,6-B,8,9) all helped lead us to where we are now. It’s a very different world than the one “we” grew up in, and their path getting here has been riddled with potholes, plagues, and sandstorms, different from the ones we experienced.

Here’s the deal. Every generation hears from previous generations about how much easier the youngens have it, how much tougher the older generations are, how today’s youth whine too much, don’t do this right, don’t do that right, and generally screw up the country. It’s not true, none of it. While we can say that the older generations have done a lot of good things, they/we have f*cked up plenty as well.

So back off the young folk. Don’t get mad when they get “all smart” on you. It’s not their fault that they spent so  much time preparing to do battle with the world’s smartest Millennials. Give them some credit for handling all the stress they’ve been dealt and moving forward in a way that makes sense for their future, not ours. Each generation does what it sees fit to best accomplish longevity for the herd, they are no different; they are finding their own way. As Jeanine Tesori said:

“If you’re doing something new there is always a sense of fear or foreboding but you’re in new ground and you have to get out your machete and cut a new path”

Ever Forward Millennials, just like the rest of us.

Change is part of our internal struggle, while difficult, it is necessary.
Change is part of our internal struggle, while difficult, it is necessary.

Rugged Individualism: It’s Not Really So Real

There is a myth that persists in our society, a myth that the rugged individual (RI)(read: male, usually White, tough, rough, “self-made man“, does it “his way”; think – John Wayne, Clint Eastwood, Indiana Jones, Donald Trump, George W. Bush, and the Marlboro Man) is the one who gets things done and makes our country the military, economic, and “moral” superpower it is. He explores new places or ideas, fights the “good fight”, goes his own way & finds success, and usually saves the day—in one way or another. He is the reason, some believe, that America is great. He is also the role model for those who wish to remake America in his image (that is to say, without government policies that intervene in social or economic affairs—for the most part). They say that this RI personality trait lies within the social fabric of American society, it’s part of “our” DNA. The only problem with this kind of thinking, is that it’s leaving out 95% of the story, and anyone who is not of the male gender.

The other 95% of the story tells of how these tough guys were often raised by families that cared about their physical, mental, and likely spiritual, well being. Additionally, they were raised in communities (be it rural, urban, or the netherworld that lies between) where neighbors helped neighbors, believing in the notion that the whole is greater than any individual part. Without this solid foundation upon which they were raised (that the well-being of the local polity and its constituents take precedent over any one individual), it is doubtful that the more interesting 5% of their story would ever occur.

It should also be pointed out that rugged individualism, the American type, is not exclusively practiced by the male species nor dominated by the descendants of European Americans; men & women of all ethnicities have practiced some form or another of this character trait ever since our continent was first inhabited by Native Peoples more than 10,000 years ago.

Whether the communities that raise these RIs chose to act in a collective manner because of the biblical teachings they heard on Sunday’s, or because they knew that their community was stronger if every person was healthy, educated (in whatever professions were important to the continued existence of their inhabitants) and engaged in furthering the group’s well being, they worked together for the common good. This fraternal style of living arrangement does not preclude any RI from performing heroic acts, or spending long, lonely, hours developing a plan/model for a new venture; but at the end of the day, the solo acts are only one small part of the lived experience of every individual’s greater existence. The ongoing support from friends, family, neighbors, teachers, community, et al. is far more important in any success achieved by “The Great One”, and in the telling of the full story. And this is where some of Americas’ Great Divides have their beginnings.

The real history of our great country is not one of solo actors daring to be great, but rather communal actors being supported in their not truly individual endeavors. While the period of the Columbian Exchange and beyond was filled with the efforts of many capable sailors and crew, we only know the names of the ships’ Captains; they are given all the credit for traversing the oceans and seas.  Similarly, those brave souls who took their wagons Westward are only remembered by their family, or towns for which they are a namesake (the Donner Party exempted), yet the first Governor of each state is prominently displayed on public schools and other buildings/parks/etc. Civil War buffs remember that General George Pickett showed extreme bravery when he led his men into certain slaughter on day 3 at Gettysburg, but those thousands of men who followed Pickett, Pettigrew, and Trimble, also showed extreme bravery by marching into an open field— knowing the Union Army waited 3/4 of a mile ahead. Certainly, we cannot hope to remember the names of every person who has aided in every successful venture, but neither should we fail to recognize the importance of all those hands that helped to make events possible.

On the one side, the pro RI side, we have people arguing that individuals, not the government, are responsible for taking care of themselves. Whether “care” entails work, medical needs, 2nd amendment rights, education, or basic needs (food, shelter, safety), they argue that individuals should bear the burden of providing for themselves. These folks are more prone to argue for policies that decrease: government oversight generally, business & banking regulations, and taxes.

The other extreme is the far left-end of a socialist-style system (which is very different from a liberal progressive form of gov’t.). Governance of this sort provides many, if not all, of the necessities that people need to survive, though not necessarily thrive; from free or subsidized food and shelter, to healthcare, education, and employment. This extreme doesn’t find much support in the U.S. Neither of these systems, as is, are particularly useful in a modern economy, but they both offer ideas that could, through skillful compromise and some tweaking, be used for the greater good. Compromise, however, according to Cadillac (ads by Publicis Worldwide) and Elbert Hubbard, is for weak men. I would disagree with this premise, as would any wise politician hoping to gain passage of a controversial piece of legislation.

In between the far left and the far right are a wide variety of political ideologies, belief systems, and traditions that dictate, to some extent, regional and personal mores, values, and norms. While it is likely that we (our collective society) agree on far more than we disagree on, some “choose” (aided by various forms of media) to focus on those issues that divide us. The divisive list includes: Roe -v- Wade, 2nd Amendment, proper role of government(s), social insurance & social welfare programs, military spending, role of Christianity in schools/society/gov’t, immigration, minimum wage and the wealth gap (ideal and actual), social justice, and marriage equality. This seems like a big list of very important issues, and it is. But it’s not bigger than the list of items that we accomplish every day.

Work (paid and unpaid), caring for family, keeping up our homes, preparing meals, supporting others (mentally, physically, emotionally), taking care of the self, remembering to be nice to people (because one never knows what another is going through), volunteering, and learning, are accomplishments that many people successfully conquer, daily. So why do we insist on arguing about topics that are not of great enough import to get a majority of us to the polls on election day? (I believe they are important enough, but our national voting record tells me I am in the minority).

Part of the problem stems from our lack of understanding each other. We interact with and live amongst people, with whom we share commonalities. This serves to reinforce our beliefs and polarize those who dare to think differently. When we are continually told that our beliefs are right/correct/valid, and we hear the vitriol directed at those with other ideas, it’s natural to assume that “those people” have it wrong. But what if they don’t? Or, what if they do but don’t know it, because no one is willing to engage in civil conversations to understand another perspective. Or, what if the truth lies somewhere in the middle (like the suburbs)? And what about the RIs who claim that all sides have it wrong and that we should rebel against all government action and fend for ourselves (while surrounded by 500 friends and family members, a whole crew of RIs)?

This calls for conversations. Real conversations, one-to-one, face-to-face, “a” to “b”, you get the picture. These conversations take time, and courage, and sometimes cold beer(s). But this is the best way to learn about our differences, our fellow citizens, our brother and sisters, our countrymen/women and those with whom we share so much yet know so little about. Urban and rural people need to connect and learn why each feels the way they do about gun control and gun rights; it’s not as simple as one might think. Republicans and Democrats could learn a lot from talking to each other about the employment, economic, and moral dilemmas that come with income inequality and the pro’s and con’s of unions. Children of privilege could gain new insights into the power of words by talking with Ta’Nehisi Coates. And those Americans in positions of power and/or with greater wealth could speak with folks in middle and lower socio-economic communities and “get in touch” with what it’s like to not be wealthy; possibly giving them pause before spouting off about the minimum wage being one of the Democrats’ lame ideas .

Policies that promote individual risk and reward (such as deregulation of the banking and business sectors or tax cuts that do more for those at the top than those at the bottom) over the needs of the greater society are responsible, by and large, for many of our current economic issues. When more of the wealth (which is finite) is concentrated in the pockets of fewer individuals, it serves to depress an economy. The concept is not complex; if you have less money, you will spend what you have in order to survive and support anyone that depends on you. If you have more money (a lot more), you will invest it, or stash it offshore, or play other sorts of games to keep from paying taxes. Money that is hidden is not helping our economy; money that is spent in local businesses, whether on french fries, fuel, or fixtures for the kitchen, is contributing to the supply and demand cycle that economies rely on.

We have come to this point in our nation’s history (vast economic inequity) in part by crediting individuals with making America what it is today rather than talking about nation-building as an effort undertaken by all of us: enslaved Africans & African Americans; construction, industrial, & agricultural workers; miners; lumberjacks; fishermen/women; teachers; engineers; volunteers; men & women of the Armed Forces; bakers & brewers; salespeople, I.T. professionals, athletes, public servants, thespians & artists of all types, and all the other Americans and immigrants who have taken part in building our country, should be recognized for their substantial efforts in making America the country it is. By placing the elite on a pedestal, we have given them carte blanche to do as they please in all matters financially, legally, and politically; and they have done what is in their best interest, made money for themselves and their friends and left everyone else standing on the far side of the moat.

I don’t begrudge anybody from trying to make money. Money is not the issue; the issue lies in the mindset that those who are the most successful have achieved their goals through nothing more than their own hard work, tenacity, and sheer brilliance, choosing to ignore all the people that have played a role in them reaching their zenith (which tends to lead to less sharing of that created wealth).

While individuals accomplish goals everyday: open businesses, graduate from college, get promoted, win a wrestling tournament, write a book, etc., etc.,;  they don’t do it without the support of their extended family/community. Be it financial, mental, emotional, physical, or spiritual, they are supported by many people from the various contacts they have made. Additionally, they are encouraged/motivated by loved ones; AND, the Local, State, and/or Federal government(s) provided services (e.g. infrastructure, emergency services/first responders, disaster relief, education, possibly tax breaks, grants & loans, and much much more) that allowed them to focus on achieving their goal.

Rugged individualism is not a myth, but neither is it the whole story. Some people have the innate ability to rise up and conquer whatever is thrown at them. This doesn’t happen through DNA alone, it is a skill that is first learned, then honed, and eventually ready to be used. It only exists because s/he had the opportunity to learn and the time to hone, and finally, the access to a place where using it offers the potential of reaping great rewards.

Leif Erikson—Rugged Viking type, got by with a lot of help from his friends
Leif Erikson—Rugged Viking type, got by with a lot of help from his friends

If you’re interested in exploring the political relationship between public and private actors and how policy actions shape societies, read Deborah Stone’s Policy Paradox. This book lays out some of the major issues that policy makers have to deal with when considering new policies and the communities they affect.

A few political cartoons about rugged individualism: AlaskaMedia production; RI

Eating to Live and Living to Eat

Ham ‘n’ havarti between pumpkin waffles with butternut squash soup and 3 bean mélange

 

Food, next to oxygen and hydrogen, is the human races’ most important survival need. A great deal of attention is paid to the foods we eat, the foods we try not to eat, the policies that dictate food production, safety standards, and labeling requirements, and the differing agricultural practices used by small family farms, medium size production sites, and large agribusiness facilities. We count calories and fat and protein and fiber, or we don’t; and we often think about eating healthier—and sometimes we do. But at the end of the day, we eat to sustain our existence; and, if we’re lucky, the foods we enjoy not only provide us with the necessary nutrients to preserve life, but also bring us joy through the flavors, colors, and aromas, that envelop each culinary delight.

One of the more recent trends in the food world (really taking off in the past five years) is the return to local sourcing, specifically with farms that engage in organic and sustainable practices. Restaurants featuring regional fare, school districts working with local producers, and increasing numbers of farmers markets, are all proof that people are 1) demanding food and beverage options that originate in their state or region, 2) are produced on farms that use sustainable and organic or biodynamic practices, and 3) are not just talking the environmental (social entrepreneur) talk, but walking the conservationist/land steward walk.

Amongst grocers, Whole Foods has been at the forefront of this movement. They were the first major grocery chain to be certified organic (2003) and they have been promoting natural and sustainable farming practices since they opened in 1980. They implemented an animal welfare rating system to provide consumers with background information about where Whole Foods sources meat and seafood and how the animals were raised/treated.

The grocer’s most recent policy change comes in the form of a rating system for produce and flowers. NPR produced a piece about this on Morning Edition (12 June 2015). Some organic farmers are upset because they don’t agree with the way Whole Foods is grading their farming practices. These farmers believe that being certified organic is in and of itself a very useful, and adequate, measure of how a farm is operating.

Whole Foods, however, didn’t incorporate the new system as another means of showing off their commitment to organic farming practices; rather, this initiative is intended to highlight those operators (organic & conventional) that are being good stewards of the land. Practices that are not included in organic certification, such as “water conservation, energy use in agriculture, farm worker welfare, [and] waste management” are extremely important to the long-term health of rural eco-systems and the people who work the land (Charles, 2015). This appears, from an outsiders perspective (namely mine), to be aimed at conserving our resources, rather than simply ensuring no pesticides were used. Both ideas, organic production and growing in an eco-friendly responsible manner, should be the goal of anyone interested in sustainability.

The issue of conservation and land stewardship is directly related to the interconnected ideas of eating to live & living to eat. When we choose to buy food and drink that is grown and produced locally, using practices that support the welfare of the land and the farmers, we are choosing to invest in our future and our health (and the health of those we cook for). Furthermore, we have to eat, physiologically speaking; so why not support the local/regional economy when possible. And, as an added bonus, we get to indulge in the amazing flavors that are found in the grains (local craft beer), fruits, and vegetables, that don’t require additives and preservatives to stabilize them for their extended shelf life.

Eating to live comes from necessity. Living to eat comes from those food experiences that we didn’t know were possible—until we savored just picked sweet corn-on-the-cob, tomatoes from the garden, or blueberries plucked from a bush. Support your local farmers, brewers et al., and purveyors of all things connected to your extended neighborhood.

Neither the salad, nor the beer, were OverRated!
Neither the salad, nor the beer, were OverRated!