Acting Your Age

Here’s the thing.

We live in a society that values youth over experience, wisdom, ability and knowledge. I’m not sure why we do that, but children are more valuable to us than non-children, which also translates into vilifying people who opt not to breed. There’s a whole bunch going on in this statement, and I might get overtaken by that ancient Greek God Tangent, but if you hold on and keep your hands and feet inside the cart at all times, I’m sure we’ll arrive together at the end.

If I were a guessing man, I’d guess that part of the reason we value youth so highly is because we think of youth as a promise. A hundred years ago, youth was a wish – your baby probably wasn’t going to survive much past the age of 2, which is why (in addition to not having access to reliable birth control) you had so many babies. For some people, having babies was really a sad occasion. One more mouth to feed on a husband’s wages that didn’t even properly provide for the mouths you already had. Couldn’t afford a doctor, so when the kids got sick, they probably were just going to die. If you were fortunate enough to live in Germany or the UK and had a steady job, you were covered under universal health insurance for primary care, but if you needed a specialist or a hospital stay, that wasn’t covered. And if you didn’t have a steady job (a lot of people didn’t have steady jobs after the industrial revolution), it was more likely that your babies would just die. Polio, measles, chicken pox, typhus, flu, tuberculosis…if you lived in a city (which most people did because they couldn’t afford to buy land), you were on the ride and there was no getting off.

If you survived past toddlerhood, your family might be able to afford to send you to school, but chances were much more likely you found work to help pay for a place to live, food for your brothers and sisters (and your parents). If you made it to your 20s, you might find a husband or wife and start the cycle all over again. And if you were a woman who hadn’t married by the time you were 25 or so, you were pretty much resigned to being a spinster. Bachelors had it a *bit* easier, because a woman’s worth was really in her ability to care for a gent and all the babies he’d give her. So youth, I guess, those halcyon years between the ages of 10 and 25, meant you’d SURVIVED! YAY! And you were able to be a contributing member of society.

Once you were done having kids and couldn’t work anymore (probably 40+, given life expectancy in populated areas, but for the sake of argument, let’s say 60+), you became a burden to society. You had to live with your kids, or if you were fortunate, you’d had a job that allowed you a pension which might cover the cost of a one-room flat and victuals. If you were less fortunate, you might end up in the street, or at the mercy of churches and service groups that tried to provide homes for the elderly.

With youth came vitality and ability and an income. So okay, it makes sense to value youth. Then came a bunch of wars, and with the wars came a lot of social change – things like women having the right to open a bank account and own property; like public schooling being provided for all children; like universal health care; like employment insurance and social services. Labour laws. All of this meant people started living better lives. Longer lives. They were able to be productive for so much more of their lives. Kids born after the first world war “had no idea how hard we had it” before.

Kids born after the depression “had no idea how hard we had it” before.

Kids born after the second world war “had no idea how hard we had it” before.

I’m sure this probably goes all the way back to Adam and Eve, who lectured Cain and Abel about how they had NO idea the work their parents had put in to name all those fucking animals and trees and shit was more than the kids had ever had to do. I mean, we all know that the real reason Cain murdered Abel was because they just had no real appreciation for hard work and had always had everything handed to them. They were ungrateful. Narcissists. Petty and thankless. FECKLESS, one might say. Those boys. Feckless as the day is long. Seriously. You try naming a gnu. It’s not easy. And then your kids are all, whatever look there’s an ass’ jawbone fuck you, brother, I want your shit. Great. Just. Great.

The point here is that as parents, we try to make the world a better place for our kids. Or at least we try to help our kids be better able to cope with the shittiness of it. We work our asses off to try to make something of ourselves, to make things better. Sometimes, we succeed.

If we succeed at making the world a better place – even if it isn’t the WHOLE world, even if it’s just the little piece of world closest to us – why shouldn’t we celebrate that? Why shouldn’t we say “yes, things seemed a lot more difficult to me when I was your age, but time and perception changes things and in reality, you might have things a little easier than I did. ISN’T THAT AWESOME!?” Why shouldn’t we celebrate that? Why do we have to blame the next people who come through it for not appreciating it? What if they do appreciate it but don’t have the language to know how to thank us for it?

How the hell do you thank an entire generation of people for being part of making it possible for women and people of colour to vote? How the hell do you thank a generation of people for making it possible to have labour laws that protect their rights? I mean, other than just walking up to someone old enough to be your mum or your granddad and saying “hey, thanks.”

What’s worse is why on earth we blame people for taking advantage of the successes we created. People worked incredibly hard to make a better living situation for their children, and when their children take advantage of the improved living situation, we turn around and say “you shouldn’t take advantage of that because if you do, it means you’re FECKLESS.” That’s insane.

So every time I hear someone bitching about “Millennials”, I grind my teeth. People need time and space to figure out who they are and where they fit in the world they’ve been brought into. That doesn’t frigging happen overnight. In fact, it doesn’t really happen until your mid-20s. If it seems like someone younger than you is ungrateful for the great riches they get to benefit from that you didn’t have available to you, I invite you to think about the great riches YOU had that your parents and grandparents didn’t have available to THEM. You think “Millennials” shouldn’t be bitching about how hard it is to make a living when they’re going out to a nightclub and spending money on drinks and parking and cover charges? REALLY?

Brother, what the fuck were you doing in your 20s? Because I seem to remember there was no shortage of people my age at nightclubs and bars and pubs and concerts. I seem to remember an awful lot of bitching about how we couldn’t afford the cars we wanted (I wanted a Volkswagen Thing, but I was an Odd Sort – other people wanted the BMWs and Mercedes and Big Ol’ Dodge Ram Truks that their parents could afford to buy, presumably because their parents HAD BEEN IN THE ACTIVE WORKFORCE FOR AT LEAST 15 YEARS IF NOT MORE) or the apartments we wanted or how we’d never be able to afford a house on our salaries (which was, for the most part, minimum wage). I remember people in “professional colleges” like Engineering sneering at us because after THEY convocated, THEY’D get these awesome jobs in the oil patch and would end up being able to buy ALL OF THE THINGS. I remember starving artists whose artist parents had also been starving artists. I remember our government spending taxpayers’ money frivolously. I remember the people who were my age feeling aimless, listless, directionless, lost, and persecuted.

Nobody wanted to hire us at 16, 18, 21, or even 22. There *were no jobs for us*. I remember scouring the classifieds, looking for something I was “qualified” to do. They wouldn’t hire me as a server at a restaurant, presumably because I had no experience, but also have you met me? I couldn’t get work as an office administrator because I’d never worked in an office before. HELLO I’M LEARNING HOW TO LIFE, THANK YOU VERY MUCH. A LITTLE HELP HERE?

What makes that experience ANY different from what the people who come after us are going through?

Argument after argument saying that “kids today all think they’re special snowflakes”? I don’t know if you remember the great social experiment of the 70s and 80s in which we all learned “I’m okay; you’re okay”, which basically taught us that each of us is unique and deserving of love and respect. And really, if our kids are expecting to be treated like princesses and courtesans, WHOSE FUCKING FAULT IS THAT? It’s OURS. If you REALLY believe that “kids today” are ungrateful, feckless losers with high expectations, maybe take a look at the way you’ve raised them, buddy. Maybe take a look at what makes you think you’re so goddamned special. Maybe figure out what gives you the right to declare yourself king shite of turd mountain when you’re struggling to figure out what the hell you’re going to do when you want to retire. Maybe figure out who worked THEIR arse off so that you could sit up on your throne of broken dreams and talk down to the people who come after you.

And another thing. “Boomers” didn’t wreck the world. Civilisations change. Populations change. People are fallible. People fuck up. We make bad decisions. Sometimes we make good decisions. Sometimes we make decisions based on facts. Other times we ignore the facts because we want more stuff. We want more money. We want more house. We want more fame. WE created the society we live in, not our kids. If we don’t like what society tells us, we change it. Boomers didn’t like the idea that they had to work in the same jobs their parents did. They didn’t like it that their parents couldn’t afford to retire. So they changed it. Boomers didn’t like racial segregation. So they changed it. Boomers’ parents and grandparents didn’t like disenfranchised women. So they changed it.

Gen-X didn’t like homophobia. We didn’t like the cold war. We didn’t like inequity and greed and human rights violation. We wanted to continue some of the work our grandparents and our parents fought for. So we started trying to change it. Yes, yes, “not all of us”. But until we actually dismantle democracy, the majority decides, and when we set out to change the world, by Gord, we’re going to change the world. Sometimes for the better. Sometimes for the worse.

Quit fucking ignoring the success you’ve had, and the success of your parents and grandparents and great grandparents. Quit blaming your kids and their kids for being kids. Sure, maybe you *didn’t* have the kinds of cool toys “kids today” have. Maybe your family couldn’t afford the things you can afford. Maybe your family STILL can’t afford the things your neighbours and friends can afford. That’s not your fault. Probably the biggest lie we ever chose to believe was that if you work hard, you will amass great riches. That’s bullshit. You can work your arse off and end up with nothing.

The point is that most of us have a better starting place than our parents did. Most of us provide a better starting place for our kids than our parents provided for us. ESPECIALLY if you’ve benefited from historical privilege. ESPECIALLY if anyone in your family has had the opportunity to get an education (high school and/or University). ESPECIALLY if anyone in your family has been employed steadily. Instead of swearing about “kids today”, can we please just switch our voices over to giving thanks? Can we please just keep an eye out to what we still need to work on to make things *even better* for the kids that will come of age in another 10, 20, 50 years?

What a sad and silly waste of time and energy it is to blame people who haven’t even had a chance to change the world, for our inability to change the world enough.

4 responses to “Acting Your Age”

  1. I like millenials. Three of them – are my children, and they’re doing just fine. The got more than I had in some ways, less in others, and are mostly doing well, and two are self-supporting in the tech field, and I have hope for the third.

    Their hardworking friends are mostly doing the same, with a lost soul here and there still working on it.

    I’m glad they have it a little easier in the things I could give them – they have a hard job in a bigger world.

  2. I’m actually sort of sympathetic to the Millennials, if that’s still what we’re calling them, because between the whole neo-liberal dismantling that the Me Generation and the Gen X Gordon Gecko brigade undertook of as many of the good things laid down from 1918 to 1978 as they could, and the fact that the Boomers will NOT EFFING RETIRE and free up some jobs, they actually have a good claim on starting in a worse place than their parents.

    Also, and off topic a bit; I promise to not vilify any non-breeding folks who don’t actively vilify those who have chosen to procreate. That other bunch, though… man, they’re annoying.

    • Boomers are retiring all over the place, whenever and wherever they can. They’re also picking up part-time jobs in retirement as they realise that a) not doing anything after a lifetime of working your arse off is kind of difficult; b) they didn’t save up as much as they thought they had and it’s a hell of a lot more asspensive to live now than it was when they started saving; and c) they still have a lot to offer, what with life expectancy being 10-15 years higher than it was when they were our age.

      Don’t diss the Boomers either, is what I’m saying.

  3. Many of us have forgotten what it was actually like to be in our twenties. I hear middle-aged people bitching about the younger set all the time, but I don’t see them being much different than we were. They just have different toys than we had. -Kate

i make squee noises when you tell me stuff.

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