“History owes us nothing!” they say, discarding uniform work vests for a small shop space by the street. They peddle wares with zeal, churned out by clockwork machines, amidst the hubbub of honking cars. “We will construct our own rafts to ride the shock waves you created!” they shout accusingly at stone dead (and deaf) predecessors, beginning unions and demanding to be heard within the chambers of parliament. “We are the founders of a new language!” they claim as dozens of bright eyed youth clack away on black keys in sentences of 1s and 0s.
And you are nothing like us they thunder, aghast at the generation to come.
To the children of the 70s we are sheltered, entitled and foolhardy. We are the Snowflakes.
Maybe it was the fact that 16 year olds had to defend their right not to be shot at the past month that triggered me (no pun intended). Maybe it was the embarrassing attempt by my own government to drag youth to show some interest in the upcoming national Budget release by plastering the faces of social media influencers over the announcements as a garish embellishment. Whatever it may be, it set the thought that possibly the misgivings against my generation were a result of a broken telephone conversation with the old that could yet be rectified.
In the eyes of the previous generation, mine is not unlike a caged songbird. Our world lies in the confines of our cage and, like captive songbirds, we appear rather content to keep our wings securely folded so long as food is delivered at our call. Flight for us is a few hops not more than a few centimeters at a time, hemmed in by our own unwillingness to seek space beyond the thin metal trap. But it’s easily forgotten that didn’t begin our journey within a cage and in fact unlike the caged bird, our vision extends to places we can’t even physically reach. Media access and changing education standards now demand that we interact beyond our physical boundaries. This means, like it or not, global maladies such as declining job prospects, thinning social support and increasingly fissured societies can’t just fly past our heads. We are forced to be acutely aware of them given how plugged in we are to the torrent of information available online. Set against the ideals we’ve been raised by, the disjoint between reality and what we’ve been told to expect of humanity becomes even starker. It highlights the gap that still needs to be bridged. It lends us the common sense worldview that it is not alright to pin the blame of a rape onto a girl’s attire of being too concealing or too revealing, to assume it is acceptable that wage discrepancies can be overlooked as long as no one kicks up a fuss. It empowers us to pitch higher and earmarks what we should rightfully fight for as reflected by the millennials of the #metoo movement and the youth protesters in Iran. That supposed shelter we should escape as fast as possible is also a beacon for what we wish to work towards.
And when the calls for such change grow into an audible chant, it becomes labeled with the ugly lettering of ‘Entitlement’. Make no mistake for I’m not in favor of acceding to requests such as artificially marked up minimum wages without any reasoning or principle behind the demands. But it seems a bit of a stretch to say that our generation is unique in the complaints it raises of spiraling taxes and income that never quite seems to be enough. Rising healthcare costs and unsustainable pension schemes are haunting countries throughout the western hemisphere and in slightly modified forms in Asia. These demands on the government and its provisions can’t simply be justified by the fact that the older demographic in society has done its part to forward the country. Their demands can’t be executed in isolation and in fact hinder the coming generation from contributing as they have by climbing up the economic ladder and wisely investing what savings they have. When problems arise due to externalities, it follows that the affected group demands reparations be made. Calling them entitled and unresourceful is a blatant denial of each group’s unique circumstances. This form of finger-pointing between the generations offers no solutions for the future.
Would the answer then lie in seeking alternatives of our own? Again, this opens a can of worms when broached to the older generation. It’s seen as unorthodox, rebellious and outright foolhardy. After years of cultural conformity, youth in Asia including Singapore, at a crossroads of the west and east, are no longer naively sponging information around us. We recognize our past is rife with mistakes previous generations are still unwilling to concede yet we see the value in enduring traditions as well. The solution is to shake up norms and break boundaries for better outcomes. Take Ayush Kejriwal, a South Asian fashion designer challenging beauty standards ingrained in India through telling photographs of models proudly standing in their rich brown skin. To some, it may seem like a reduction of the issue by focusing on something as trivial as the clothes you wear. But this act of questioning past practices should be encouraged not stymied. The spontaneity of the action is also not a sign of recklessness but an awareness of time and the value of the present moment. Timed right, it could set off a cascade of change for the better. And otherwise, these problems seen in society would remain rooted to the ground, still standing, due to hesitation.
Admittedly, even the most well-meaning of intentions can end poorly. Not every member of my generation is a swashbuckling sword-wielding activist and there’s much to learn from the heydays. That doesn’t, however, justify writing-off a generation as incompetent or obtuse in its comprehension of the world. To be truthful, the adrenaline that pumps through our veins is no different from what coursed through the bones of the previous generation as they first picked up a computer or explored the frontiers of science. For the songbird still remembers the great migrations its parents embarked on and still sings for the day it can set off as they did past the bars restraining it.