Start a discussion about the millennials with those who are older and you are bound to hear about their sense of entitlement: desire for constant positive feedback, and unwillingness to put time in doing drudgery before moving up in an organization. It is not that the younger generation feel that they are superior. Rather they have a sense that they are equal to the generations that came before them, even though they are still young, inexperienced, and yet to make their mark on the world. Many simply do not view those in authority as any different from themselves.
I see an irony in the older generations looking down on people under thirty four for viewing the world from a flat rather than hierarchical perspective. Back in 1964 when the oldest of the baby boomers were just reaching their twenties, a newspaper writer quoted activist Jack Weinberg as saying “We have a saying in the movement that you can’t trust anybody over 30.” A number of baby boomers took this advice to heart, even though it was intended as a tongue in cheek quote. Within a decade or so, they would beyond the age of being trustworthy according to their own words. Many of us didn’t simply assume we were equal to our elders, we assumed we were better than them.
The sense of entitlement seems to be correlated with youth. No matter how strict a generation is with their young, children as whole lead a more pampered life than adults. Good parents take care of their children’s needs, so believing one is entitled to receive things from others is a hallmark of childhood. It is also an indication of immaturity as one gets older.
What causes people to remain stuck in the belief that are entitled as they become adults? For one thing, growing up with privileges and wealth does. The world of baby boomers was one in which greater abundance seemed normal. We became used to equating what we wanted with what we needed. As research has shown, children coming from families with higher socio-economic status do better in school and business. But this comes at the price of increasing depression and self-destructive behavior among the children of the privileged class as they struggle to develop their own identity.
The world without a hierarchy, in which the elder is no more, or no less entitled than the younger, may actually be an idealistic view. But then idealism is also a characteristic of youth.