I know people love to hate on the generation coming up underneath them, but I have a confession to make: I have a lot of faith, and hope, wrapped up in Gen Z. Like the kids of the 1960s, I think Gen Z may be the generation that is able to create real social change in the United States. In fact, I think Gen Z might be the only hope for the United States, and the world. Sure, some people like to bag on Gen Z and talk about how dumb and lazy they are, but that’s not my experience in the least.
My daughter and her friends, and their friends, and the majority of the Gen Z kids I’ve ever met, are good people. Yeah, they might be a little lazy when it comes to manual labor, but so were we when we were kids. The way our kids differ from us, is they’re conscientious and concerned, and not completely wrapped up in the superficial the way we were, because we thought we had the luxury to do so. Little did we know, we were wasting precious time, and I think we’ve taught some valuable lessons to our kids, both in the things we’ve done well, but in all the areas Gen X has fallen short. They are very aware that politics touches their lives in a very personal way, and they’re more than ready to tear down the system and rebuild it from the ground-up.
They’re polite. They’re conscientious. They give a damn about the environment. They’re kind to people of all stripes, sexual orientations and genders. They’re not obsessed with making money, like my generation was, we kids of the 1980s. The Me Generation piggybacked onto our Boomer parents, hoping we could achieve a bigger, better lifestyle than them, while also saving the environment. We managed to do neither, though I don’t think that’s entirely our fault.
Our kids, thankfully, seem to know better. They seem wary of the college-to-corporate treadmill, seeing the debt and cookie-cutter existence it’s delivered to their parents. They seem to want to return to a world of real jobs that produce real things, things meaningful and fun, like sustainably grown foods, engineering to actually fix the world instead of clutter it up, and, most importantly, meaning and happiness. They seem to like to take parts of old things and invent new ones, and I mean that metaphorically as well as literally. Whereas my generation tended to view our elders as old-fashioned and embarrassing, our kids are interested in our views and when they think people our age are talking good sense, they listen. And while they do enjoy their electronic gadgets, they have a healthy respect for the analog ways of doing things that have always worked, and still do.
I think, I hope, I believe that Generation Z will fix some of the Boomers’ mistakes and Gen X’s inability to affect all the real social change we wanted to. I think Gen X can take responsibility for voting to making gay marriage legal, for instance, but we’ve failed when it comes to things like institutional racism and misogyny. Though I think my generation has contributed to lessening humans’ impact on the environment, again, we haven’t been able to affect the mass change modern society demands.
Generation Z, though, I believe, might actually do it. And the reason I think they’ll do it is that they won’t settle for doing things half-assed, like my generation has been forced to. I think they’ll want all their modern toys but not at the price of the environment. I think they’re ready to embrace real equality, across race and gender. I think they’re willing to give up all the stuff in exchange for more time with their families and more time to be creative.
Maybe that’s naïve, but … I don’t think so. I think Gen Z understands what’s at stake. Because it’s they themselves who are at stake. Them and their future. Though it may not be fair, they know they have to undo what we have done, if only for their own sakes.