Friday, November 4, 2011

The Next Generation and Occupiers

Coming from an educational background, it's common to hear teachers and administrators bitching about "today's" students, how entitled they are, how pushy and demanding about things like grades and assignment dates. I've often been dubious about these complaints because it's something that has happened since time immemorial: older generations complain about younger generations (and it happens everywhere: in China, Japan). It's not that generations aren't different in key ways but that these differences are overplayed and given too much weight.

While it's probably true that young people today have a different relationship with authority than I did when I was very young (I'm only 40 so it's not like I'm a grumpy old man. Yet.): we bitched and moaned about being told what to do, when we thought something was unfair, but we didn't tend to do it confrontationally. We did what was asked of us but did it begrudgingly, bitching about it every step of the way.

Pushy upstarts, the lot of 'em
But what has struck me about the Occupiers is their ages: as I walk to the subway in the morning or drop my things on the floor of my office in the evening, I wonder to myself why I'm not there, at least just standing there sipping coffee on the sidelines and offering moral support. (It's time like these when I do start to feel like an old man!) I broadly agree with much of their concerns and though there isn't one consensus about an overall "aim," I have to admit that I admire them for being willing to schlep out there in the wind and rain and noise to make a point, as diffuse and vague as it is.

And maybe that's what makes some generations game-changers: yes, I've bitched about big business over dinner with friends or griped about how my bank is ripping me off, etc., but I've never been willing to really do anything about it. But finally voices are being raised in a way that's more confrontational and perhaps it took this generation and their relationship with authority to put to task all the things my generation (and those before me) just accepted. Maybe what I've heard people say about "today's" students is true and now we're seeing the flip side of their arrogance and pushiness.

Of course, not all protestors are 23 and it's obvious that one has a lot less to lose at 23 than at 53 or 70. And certainly not all 23 year olds are out there. But perhaps these protests, if or when they fizzle out, will simply serve as a reminder to the "powers that be" (as well as to older generations) that they can't simply continue with the same old practices that have gone un-noted in the past, that there is a new generation of "consumer" (for lack of a better word) or taxpayer who won't stand for such unfair treatment.

And it could be that the economies will slowly recover, people will go back to working again, and the game of getting ahead will just reboot, these protests ending up just a blip on the historical map. I hope not. People need work and incomes, but we also need major changes in our societies and I'm crossing my fingers that these up and comers will be the spark which starts that change.

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