Thomas Friedman calls the current generation of students, "Generation Q," the quiet generation (We are also sometimes called Millennials, Generation Y, and Echo Boomers). He seems saddened by what he sees as a lack of protest and activism in current college students. If the standard for activism is based on when Baby Boomers were college students, then Friedman is unequivocally correct. We are a generation who rarely hosts sit-ins or demonstrations.
Our generation is trying to change the world for the better; we have just learned that one way works better than others. In part it is our baby boomer parents' fault (if it is a fault at all). More than other generations, we have learned that arguing with our parents works better than a full rebellion. A USA Today article says "Generation Y is much less likely to respond to the traditional command-and-control type of management." "They've grown up questioning their parents, and now they're questioning their employers." As teenagers when we wanted to go out to a party we learned it was more effective to have an "open discussion" (ex-hippie parents like that phrase) instead of sneaking out the window. So we have learned to go through the establishment instead of protesting it. The authority we encounter on a daily basis seems much less authoritative than the one our parents did.
Friedman says that we lack "real activism," epitomized for him by James Meredith stepping in front of an angry mob to end segregation. At that time, that kind of activism was necessary -- there was no alternative. Yet, where is the angry mob for us to step in front of? It's not that the world doesn't have problems, but that as a generation we see another way to fight these issues.
We are a socially-conscious generation. The 2006 Cone Millennial Cause Study found that 61 percent of this generation (born between 1979 and 2001) "feel personally responsible for making a difference in the world." Seventy-eight percent believe that companies are partially responsible for making this change. We believe change needs to happen and we believe the system can make it happen.
Call us naïve, but don't say we aren't trying to do our part to save the world. Why is staging a sit-in more to change your congressman's mind more effective than working to become that congressman or woman?
I was talking to a friend the other day about my career plans, which focus on socially conscious business, and she said something that clicked with me, and I believe a whole generation. She said we're all just trying to change the world in our own way. Whether it's by becoming business people, doctors, researchers, teachers, or lawyers we believe we can make a difference in our profession. Yes, we aren't overthrowing the system, but don't think we don't care.
Maybe we are the quiet generation, but if you think that means we're not going to change anything, I think you're in for a big surprise.