A short (relatively speaking, compared to an essay, anyway) critique of how "millennials" are stereotyped:
We do not think we are "special snowflakes." We may indeed be a generation that has realized from the onset how not special we are. Conventional wisdom would assert that many young folks' approach to social media is "like farming" and getting attention. You know what 100 likes on Facebook is worth? Nothing. And we know that. All the way back to the MySpace days, I saw me and everyone else decorate our pages with the same HTML codes and post the same songs and copypaste the same bulletins.
I don't think my facial piercings and shaggy hair are symbols of noncomformity, because a million other people have them too. I just like how they look. Maybe there is a little subconscious influence in my head telling me it amounts to "making a statement", but that's an easily recognized delusion. And by pointing out that dressing weird or getting pierced or doing something against the grain doesn't amount to individuality, I'm not "special" for saying that either, because everyone else has already come to that realization too.
When I first learned about the 1960's hippie culture and the anti-Vietnam protest and groups like Students for a Democratic Society, I kept thinking "why is there no counterculture anymore?" The truth is that there is a mainstream culture and a counterculture that has been so blended that everyone walks the line between both. And here on social media, that blending is on display in full force.
The next time you see a stranger on the internet expressing an identity of gender noncomformity or some abstract political or spiritual ideas that don't flow well in the mainstream, don't assume that person is trying to be special. Instead, consider that person may be wanting to find others just like them. Cliche as it as, it rings true that the more connected we get, the lonelier we get. I truly believe the internet is still a net positive thing, because it's very cool to find out when none of your neighbors or your classmates or peers or family quite get you, there is someone on the other side of the world who does, who you are free to talk to any time - instantly.
You see, we know we aren't special. We know originality, real originality, is so fleeting that you always miss it. Because when an original, revolutionary idea is conceived, it catches like wildfire and spreads. The rest of us are just hoping to set off the next spark, but we know the odds and we know how it is. We're saturated in the finer details of every day life. Going down your Facebook feed is much like walking down the street - you see a lot of things: most of them scarcely matter to you, fewer things still that even help you grow as a person. But all of it together is the unfolding and unending story of all of us.
Some have said my generation is uniquely sensitive. I say we have the thickest skins yet. You say "we didn't have this disorder and this dysphoria and this condition back in the day." You sure as hell did. Some of those people whose feelings and conditions were invisible are dead now. Some of them are homeless or in prison. And some of them made successes of themselves. They have a nice car and a big house and a meaningful career. But some of those same successful people are hanging on by a thread every damn day, feeling the weight of the world on their chest that presses and presses but never stops their breath.
Every life has adversity. But the point of adversity is to face it down, conquer it and grow. Life is not settling for feeling shitty. Saying "I'm miserable and I have no way out of it, but I'll just go on" and settling for that - no. You're supposed to fight. And the people around my age are the ones who are realizing these battles shouldn't be fought alone. So if you want to make fun of these support networks we make for people who feel the pain of bigotry and misunderstanding, consider that those people are healing and working in unity to overcome what they're facing.
Let me tell you something about "trigger warnings" and "safe spaces" I've heard some folks laugh at. Those were around long before I was born. What the hell is "viewer discretion advised" on TV? Someone is going to say "fuck" on TV and you felt the need to warn us. That's just the status quo. A parental advisory sticker on a CD, or every time the news anchor warns the viewers that they're about to show "graphic content" - you accept that. So there is nothing unacceptable about saying "hey, we're going to be talking about racism or rape or something horrible here, and we know some of you have been personally affected by that and may not want to have to think about that right now." A courteous heads up.
You all have safe spaces. If you have a group of friends who you know you can just talk openly with without fear of being judged, that's a safe space. If you go to an AA meeting, would you want someone to come in and plaster the walls in ads for liquor? Would you want a group from the nearest bar marching in uninvited and ranting about how trashed they are and what a crazy night they're having? No, you don't want that. And that doesn't mean if you've quit alcohol that you can't a handle a world where alcohol exists and people like drinking. If you go to church, do you want someone to come up next to the priest or pastor and argue that God doesn't exist? Again - indulge me. Can you not handle realizing there is a world with atheists? Are you incapable of defending your beliefs in an intelligent debate? Of course you can handle it and you're capable, but your church wasn't the time or the place. That's a "safe space." Ours are just as valid.
You say my generation doesn't tolerate dissenting opinions. I've yet to hear a single millennial say that if you disagree with something like marriage equality that you should be put in prison or pay a fine. That's ridiculous, and precisely why that's not what any of us believe. You say university students shouldn't protest speakers with a "different worldview." Everyone draws a line somewhere with who and what is unacceptable. If Westboro Baptist Church was going to come to a conservative, Christian university, many of those conservative, Christian students would protest and say "hell no, we don't want them here." Because they, like liberal students, see a degree of hatred and intolerance that is unacceptable and they emphatically say no. Any reasonable person would understand students saying "we won't let David Duke speak here." And some of you will argue "but they protested people who aren't anything like David Duke or Westboro Bapist Church, they protested reasonable people." It's a matter of differing perspectives. But unless we're jailing these people or inviting political repression, no one's first amendment rights are being violated.
We are not sensitive, we do not think we're special. We didn't invent safe spaces and trigger warnings and we aren't the only ones who make use of them. We are definitely not threatening anyone's right to free speech. And we're not lazy either. We're doing what we can with what we have, and a lot of us are making a difference. Every day.