Are Millennials solving Gen X’s career v. idealism conundrum?

Many claim Millennials–those generally born between the early 1980s and mid 1990s–lack the work ethic of earlier generations. But is it possible Millennials are actually resolving a long-running dilemma that’s worried Generation X for decades?

The June 5, 2020 New York Times Book Review podcast features an intriguing interview with author David Kamp. His new book Sunny Days explores the impact children’s television shows such as Sesame Street, Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood and The Electric Company, among others, had on culture and children’s intellectual development.

While there’s no doubt interest in the era’s children’s programming is enjoying rekindled interest–evidenced by the multitude of popular documentaries and motion pictures–the question is why. Podcast host Pamela Paul and Kamp may have figured it out and discovered a hopeful and encouraging trend in the process.

Paul wonders if Generation X, specifically, possesses a “sense of economic insecurity that drove more than careerism and sort of money for money’s sake, because this is a generation that graduated into a recession, this is the generation that was the children of the Depression and war era, [the] Silent Generation. I sort of think of Gen X as kind of constantly motivated by fear and impending despair.”

Kamp, however, doesn’t let Generation X off the hook so easily. He says the generation fell short of what the era’s children’s programs’ creators accomplished. He observes these programs spawned a Children’s Liberation Movement that “respected the interiority of children, the emotional intelligence of children.”

The new cognitive and developmental approach and resulting broader cultural adoption may have enabled Millennials in ways not previously understood. Consider the potential ramifications. The implications are tremendous and suggest society is misinterpreting Millennials’ motivations, which may help explain why the US is only now finally experiencing long overdue demands for change.

Almost everyone has an opinion on the political polarity that dominates news cycles, for example. Many lament the loss of bi-partisan compromise, which may well be why we are experiencing a “collective hankering for a more civil and more civically minded time,” as Kamp posits in the interview. I suspect that is the case.

He suggests “we all sense that something has been lost that perhaps can be regained. One thing I admire about the much maligned Millennials and Generation Z people is that they seem to be putting experience ahead of careerism. I think that a lot of Boomers and Generation X people got caught up in careerism and making money ahead of their ideals. I think that’s kind of what drew me back to this period. It really was a period where again, anomalously, people really did seem to put their ideals ahead of financial incentives.”

Subsequently, Millennials may actually be breaking free from the financial bonds and insecurities that plagued and constrained Gen Xers. Millennials, in my experience, pair a new mindset with a liberty unique to their generation. They continually cultivate the combination and leverage the blend to their advantage to emphasize the importance of environmental issues, sustainable food production, equality, political access and mindful living, all while calling foul on privilege at every turn. One could reasonably conclude Millennials are living for fairness and the pursuit of genuine and meaningful experiences.

Such behavior is far from lazy. In fact, many might describe these aspirations as exemplary.

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