I am a millennial. Born in 1984. Graduated from a good college in 2007, but still holding more than $45,000 in debt. You like calling my cohort — some of whom have yet to enter middle school — lazy and self-centered.
But if you want to see our real problem, you should look in the mirror.
You taught us that we could do anything. In primary school you taught us to look out for each other (though you never elucidate on the meaning of that). In Sunday school you taught us that we are our brother’s keeper. You told us that success and happiness will come if we just follow our dreams. You told us that the sky was no limit.
So I followed my dreams, after graduating I went to Washington, DC. You know, that place you talk about with both awe and vehemence. I went to make the world a better place, to help my neighbor. Do you know what I found?
I found a world in shambles at my feet.
400 parts per million of carbon dioxide in the air, even though your best minds have been warning you that we could not break 350 ppm without irrevocably changing the climate for decades. You lot are unwilling to do anything about it. The consequences of your shit is literally covering my land, with 250 million tons of municipal waste per year getting dumped on my home. Floating patches of trash in the ocean. Ocean acidification, killing off entire sections of the sea.
I have seen what sort of people your world creates: investment bankers that force productive and profitable companies to take on debt to pay executive bonuses and investor dividends while reducing worker hours so the company does not have to pay for health insurance. Companies that pay all women 75 cents on the dollar and defend the practice as fair.
You talk of solutions, but what have you given us? Regulations that “limit the amount of pollution” companies can produce. Pretending that giving out licenses to harm will make the world better.
Your lot talks endlessly of sacrifice, but what do you know of sacrifice? A generation so fundamentally lazy you use plastic forks and disposable plates that will take hundreds if not thousands of years to decompose because you were too lazy to wash a fork. So lacking in forethought that you have to buy bottled water, filled hundreds or thousands of miles away instead of using a refillable bottle from home. (I’ll still be around picking up after you long after you are dead. In fact, your great great great great great great great great great great great great great great grandchildren will still be picking up that plastic fork and water bottle you used for lunch. Good job.)
We are sacrificing our future to maintain your illusion of a good life. A large house and a grass yard that takes more calories to maintain than it takes to feed a village in the developing world. Food that takes more energy to grow and transport than it offers in nutrition. The price for your silly little dreams is our life, our well-being. The life and well-being of our children and grandchildren.
We see that your world that is impossible for us. You told us to follow our dreams and make the world better and then try to force us into your illusions. Despite trying to entice many of our best trained engineers and scientists into your dirty world, we will persevere. You see, when you talked about giving back to your community, and filled us with aphorisms such as “you are your brother’s keeper” some of us listened and internalized the lessons, even when you did not. We believed that we were supposed to go to college to become better people, not to find a better paying job. To build the knowledge to make our community better. So that is what we will do.
We are sacrificing our future to maintain your illusion of a good life.
You talk of duty, yet you leave us hanging off a cliff of your making. So we take on massive debts to better ourselves because you refuse to give us enough help. We proudly take on that debt to make ourselves better, so we can make our world better because you refuse to. We take on that debt because we have no other choice, for we have no other way arm ourselves with the tools to fix the mess you created, the mess you are still piling onto. We take on that debt because when you are dead and gone, we will still be here, forced to pick up the pieces of your shattered illusions.
We will teach our children to love their neighbors, that they are their brother’s keeper, that our daughters are worth just as much as our sons. Yes, we will teach them the value of work, but we will teach them the greater importance of community. We will teach them to care for the less fortunate. We will teach them to protect the future. But unlike you, we will mean it.
So go ahead, call us lazy. Call us self-centered. We know better. We will outlive you. And when you are finally gone and we are in power, we will breath a sigh of relief, and start the real work of fixing the world you broke.
Your children and your children’s children, ad infinitum.