My little brother has taken to writing more and more often (something that I, as a writer myself, wholeheartedly support), and he’s
working on published an article about entitlement and our generation (Millenials, generally speaking). He asked me in a text “Do you think our generation is lazy and entitled?” And I responded, “Entitled, yes. Lazy, no.” I elaborated via text:
I think it depends on two things. Social class (parents being able to afford stuff for their kids), and upbringing. If you’re dirt poor, you can’t be lazy or you’ll die. Literally. We’re not dirt poor, and we got good stuff when we were kids up to now, but our parents raised us to work for things and punished us for being stupid. So we may feel like we deserve some things (being entitled) but we’re not unwilling to work for said things (not being lazy). I think that’s generally true across our social class, at least… I think [entitlement and our generation] is interconnected with a bunch of things and it gets complicated.
I offered to elaborate more via email, but not at that very moment, and he readily accepted. And… then I completely forgot about it and other stuff came up and… well, life happened.
But! Now I’m thinking about it again and I’d like to clarify what I told my brother and go into more depth about how “it’s complicated” and since this is my internet home, I get to do that. Yay. So, onward!
I grew up on the “poor” end of a very rich town in Southern California. My friends and I jokingly called the area “the ghetto” even though it was really anything but. None of us knew what a ghetto really was, and none of us had so much as walked through one at that time. My high school homecoming game included fireworks and a parade, and there were several dances per year besides the homecoming dance and prom. The area was (and is) primarily rich white people who work in upper class jobs: lawyers, doctors, business owners, and the like. I think there may have been one black kid in my entire grade the entire time I was in high school, maybe two or three others in the school at all. We had ceramics and art, science classes with actual working equipment, lavish theatre productions, school-owned instruments for orchestra concerts, and enough college prep to drown the entire town in SATs and advanced placement classes.
My brother (and sister) and I grew up in the same town and attended the same, rich high school. We (all) attended college at private institutions. I went on to get a terminal degree, an MFA, in creative writing—something I was able to do because I was born into a relatively privileged family and was encouraged to pursue my dream instead of “something practical”. I didn’t have to work during high school or parent my younger siblings because our parents were always working (or not there at all). Our home life was relatively stable; my siblings and I share the same parents, who have been married to each other for more than thirty years. As a family, we took road trips to see our extended family in Texas and even traveled throughout the United States by car with our paternal grandparents to see the sights: the Grand Canyon, the Ozarks, and so on.
I can only speak from my own perspective, which is based in a privileged childhood. I have at times, as an adult, lived a paycheck-to-paycheck life wherein I must sometimes decide whether I should feed my cat or myself since I haven’t had enough money for both. Though it could be argued that I led a sheltered life through high school (the theme of one of my high school yearbooks is—no joke—“living in a bubble”), I was not wholly unaware that I was living said sheltered life, and when I grew up, moved out, and moved on, I became acutely aware of what a privileged youth I’d actually had. After all, I became an adult and had to pay for things for myself… and I couldn’t afford them. I lived in New York for a couple of years, where more than half of my monthly pay went to rent for my one-room apartment. I paid my outstanding bills as far as I could every month, and then I worried about food and basic necessities.
This is all to say that Millenials—at least in the upper-middle and upper classes—are entitled. We’ve been told all our lives that we can do anything we want (“follow your dreams”) and that we can have it all, as long as we work for it. Or, we can have it all, if only we pay for it. And because we’ve been raised as though we deserve everything we need and want, we also believe we deserve everything we need and want. That is, in a nutshell, entitlement. I was told that if I attended and graduated from a good college or university, I would be able to get a good job and support myself and my (potential, theoretical) family. I feel entitled to work (in my field of study) that pays enough for me to live on my own and have a similar quality of life that I had while I was growing up. And, I think that some jobs are “beneath” my station and education—though I am, in fact, working in one of those jobs right now. If Millenials are entitled, it is because our parents’ generation made us so. We want more, and we expect more.
My brother and I have privileges we’re not even fully aware of. We are given more than the benefit of the doubt based on our race; our respective biological sexes align with our respective genders. We grew up with books in our home; we are fully literate and speak well. We did not grow up in a “broken home” or split our time between separated parents. We have no visible physical disabilities or deformities; we’re healthy and young. My brother is straight and married to a lovely young woman who shares many of these privileges with us. I could go on, but I’m sure you get the idea.
Now, all that being said, my generation knows that work means work. It doesn’t necessarily mean digging ditches or hauling lumber (though that’s obviously work, too), but also means putting in more hours at the office than we do at home, forgoing a nice dinner with our friends in order to meet a deadline, and rushing every morning to be on time, eating lunch at our desks, and staying late to “just finish this one report”. Work may mean more money, but it also means more time away from family, if we even have time for a family. My generation (of which I am on the older end and my brother is on the younger end) is a generation of latchkey kids. Our parents gave us everything they never had, but they also showed us what was really important by missing our school plays, skipping teachers’ meetings in favor of meetings with clients or coworkers, and staying late at the office and compelling us—as kids—to eat popcorn and Dr. Pepper for dinner, again.
Don’t get me wrong; my ten-year-old self is totally fine with eating popcorn for dinner every day. But tell me this: is a ten year old who makes herself dinner, albeit a completely unbalanced dinner, a lazy kid? I think not. We are a generation of figuring shit out for ourselves. Don’t know how to work the microwave? Press the buttons until something happens (while simultaneously hoping nothing explodes). Can’t reach the sink to wash your hands after using the toilet? Wash ’em in the bathtub instead. Sister’s hair keeps getting ridiculously tangled? Learn to French braid.
Now, we’re the ones who are teaching our parents how to use new technologies as they become available. If something’s not obvious to my grandma (admittedly part of the generation before my parents), it’s not worth learning about at all. If she can’t learn about something by reading about it (and immediately understanding and comprehending it), she won’t bother. Millenials are masters of of trial and error. “How do you know so much about Microsoft Word?” my mother asks. The answer is: I messed around with the program until I figured out how to do what I wanted to do. Obviously, we can read directions, too, but my generation is hardly put off by complexity or mystery. We are hardly lazy. We know that work has more than one meaning, and we employ it in all its forms.
What many members of older generations assume is laziness is actually scrappy, we’ll-pull-it-together-somehow-ness. We have to think of better, faster ways to do the same things that our parents and grandparents did. It’s impossible to know everything, to do everything. More information passes through our hands in one day than ever did in the entire lifetime of someone who lived 120 years ago. We have to make difficult decisions, and we have to make them with more choices and less time. If anything, our “laziness” is a defense against the figurative floods that threaten to topple us from our precarious positions in the crows nests of our respective ships of life. Every day we step outside our doors, we are categorically not lazy.
Entitled, yes; I admit it. Lazy? No.