15th May2017

Response to “The Millenial Question”

by admin

Rhodes Must Fall

Tough to Manage. Entitled. Self-Interested. Lazy.

This is what Simon Sinek answer is, in short, to “The Millennial Question”. It is this broad view that is used to describe people born in 1984 onwards and is one which is commonly believed (evidence of which is how verbalisations of the term ‘millennial’ are often derisive).  It is also one which is, to some extent, true. He tells the audience that the reason millennials are tough to manage and, thus, entitled is because ‘in the real world’, you don’t get what you want merely because of your desire for it, which is contrary to milennials’  parents’ assertions.
However, there are flaws to his argument in that he disregards the nuance which exists in the characteristic qualities of this generation, globally.

Again, these descriptions are mostly correct, only when directing these criticisms towards a specific sub-set of millennials. Sinek seems to generally describe middle-class, white millennials as his view is not only trite, but it is not cognisant of the fact that in many societies around the world, parents are incredibly hard on their children, many being stereotyped as having high academic and career-choice standards as is the case in diasporic/immigrant communities. A study done by Acevedo-Garcia et al. (2014) supports the argument that children in these communities didn’t necessarily grow up being told that they were ‘special’, because their parents may not only have had to work as unskilled workers in these countries, meaning their hours didn’t allow much time with their children to ‘coddle’ them in such a manner, but their parents often emphasised the importance of academic excellence mainly because it was their only guarantee of careers which rival those of their middle-class and upper-class peers.

This also has relevance to post-apartheid South Africa, in which this generation are referred to as born-frees. All of the descriptions mentioned have been used to describe them recently, as they are often criticised for their participation in cross-institutional movements such as Fees Must Fall. One of these descriptions, which Sinek describes as being the most dominant of these, is entitlement, which has been uttered repeatedly in popular spheres such as on social media. These criticisms have been extended to any civic action which calls for economic transformation which will benefit this generation directly, as they are seen as wanting ‘better paying jobs’ because they feel entitled to them or because they want extra cash from ‘side-hustles’, for miscellaneous expenses. This, however, has been debated since many minimum-wage workers who happen to be from this generation, especially in the US, are working mainly to support their basic needs, and the needs of their families, as they are a generation whose first economic  experience was of a system in dire need of repair after 2008’s global recession.

Similarly, in South Africa, the current economic and racial composition of low-wage workers and laborers within this generation is the result of a devaluation of the basic education system, which doesn’t offer many opportunities to poor, black children growing up, other than jobs in service provision and this also dispels the adjectives of self-involved and lazy being deemed as the chief characteristics of millennials’ attitudes.

Lastly, criticism of the millennials’ or the born-frees’ sense of entitlement is one which I personally have had to confront, as although we have no formal system which still promotes subjugation as there was in pre-democratic South Africa, we still see the economic and social effects which are slowly coming to the fore in contemporary South Africa. At present, we find ourselves not only demanding, but pleading for the restorations promised to our parents post-1994, with anger which is justified as these are reparations to which we are very much entitled.

In closing, Sinek’s answer to ‘The Millenial Question”, is not only demographically limited, and reductionist in its criticism of western-located Millenials at large, but it doesn’t consider the effects of historical events on millennials  in non-western countries such as South Africa. Thus, what can be gathered from this attempt at answering The Question is that, even with close study of individuals in this generation, it has no definite answer and any further attempts are inclined to reduction, which is ultimately dependent on individual positioning.

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