15 Jul Saved By A Millennial: Resilience and Resistance
Late- blooming lilac-
Perhaps we, too, have something
Marvelous about to flourish
Over the past several months, there’ve been times when I felt as if I was sinking in a bog of apprehensions about the state of world affairs; at other moments, I’ve felt lifted by the hope that humanity is evolving toward a higher state of consciousness. In my role as a clinician, I’ve been helping my patients negotiate these stressful times by providing a consistent and structured frame where they can explore their fears and reclaim their strengths. As an author, I’ve written about physical exhaustion, relational stress, national trauma, economic uncertainty, and the menace lurking in our halls of power. As a human being who too feels untethered by an uncertain future, I’ve had to actively seek other human beings for hope and inspiration.
At the top of the list of humans who’ve inspired me are those known as Generation Y, Gen Y, or simply the Millennials. According to the Pew Research Center, Generation Y are people born roughly between the years of 1981 to 1996. What makes this generation so unique is that they are the first generation to have developed in an ethos of technological connection. Their access to the internet, mobile phones, and social media has profoundly changed the way they view themselves, their relationships, and the world they are in the process of inheriting. More impactful, however, has been their need to develop their identities through a series of life altering events such as 9/11, the Great Recession of 2009, and—now—the mélange of COVID-19, which includes another great recession, acute partisan politics, as well as unresolved racial and economic inequities. If ever there was a generation of people who had to cultivate both resistance and resilience, this is it.
Many critics look down on this generation with disdain. People lob hackneyed terms at this generation claiming they are “narcissistic” and “commitment phobic.” They claim “these kids” demand special treatment and don’t want to work for markers of success that prior generations value.  They declare that they are self-absorbed and entitled. And in some ways, they are right. What they’ve gotten wrong, however, is the way critics define these traits as something that is bad. The truth of the matter is that what makes this generation so remarkable is that their sense of entitlement and concern with self, evidence healthy and adaptive traits of resistance and resilience.
Let’s start with the first. Historically, the term entitlement has referred to a demand for an unearned right or privilege. Millennials are certainly entitled to live in a world that mirrors their cultural markers and allows them to exist in a way that’s consistent with their values. Researchers have found that Millennials are most concerned with issues that impact their values of living in a healthy, financially secure, diverse and respectful world. Unfortunately, the world they are inheriting challenges these values through the following issues:
- A lack of access to health care, including mental health services. Millennials are 2x more likely to be uninsured than their parents. At the same time, they are more concerned with preventive health measures and suffer from the highest rates of stress and depression than any generation before them.
- Being highly educated, unemployed, poor, and drowning in debt. Millennials were raised in a culture of aspiration. While their parents were able to benefit from vestiges of class transcendence and a robust middle class, millennials have not. In addition, those who are fortunate enough to find work realize that they are earning less than generations that have come before them even as the cost of living continues to increase. 
- Being highly educated, they trust science and find special-interest politics repulsive. As such, climate change,  Black Lives Matter, and women’s empowerment matter greatly to them. Millennials are willing to accept a lower material standard of living than their parents, but they refuse to accept a lower standard of the value of a human life.
Rather than seeing the Millennial rejection of previously held markers of success as pathological, we need to see them for what and who they are. They are manifestations of a robust resiliency and a return to altruistic values of concern for others, the well-being of our planet, and a return to civility, compassion, and respect in our leaders and institutions of power. In this regard I’m consistently impressed by the altruistic consciousness of my millennial patients. In contrast to their parents, these individuals are “fed up” with the state of world affairs. One of my patients, a 21-year-old who held down two jobs and worked 7 days a week to save up for a home, spoke of his disdain for the status quo of modern politics. “These old white men have f*cked things up royally.” When asked what he intends on doing about it, he immediately responded, “Vote!” Then he added, “Even though I’m not thrilled about the options we’ve been left with, we—my friends and peers—need to reclaim the world we are about to inherit.” Yes, in many ways, this patient felt entitled to a better world, but he wasn’t going simply bemoan the state of world affairs, he was going to take action to change it.
In this regard, we need to begin to follow the lead of the Millennials rather than criticize them for not being us. We need to recognize that they deserve a better world than the one we are leaving them. We need to start ceding our power to them and to a new generation of leaders who’ve been forced to wait outside the corroding gates of power, watching through the cold impenetrable steel as the world they will inherit devolves into ruin. We need to be inspired and filled with hope for their tenacity, intelligence, and compassion rather than criticizing them for not being like us.