Why are young adults so self-centered and always seeking instant gratification? Because older adults, often in positions of power, paint them that way. What many of the older adults, many of them Baby Boomers, can't appreciate is how technological advances have so profoundly impacted the way this newest generation communicates and behaves, both at home and at work.
Friction and misunderstandings often occur when communicating across generations. It gets even more challenging when working across virtual settings. It isn't surprising then that younger adults, the Millennials, are labeled by Boomers as unable to hold meaningful face-to-face conversations, not doing what it takes to achieve long term success or unable to show empathy for others.
Studies released in the last few years point out that the ability for Millennials to show empathy is declining. Sara Conrad, a researcher at the University of Michigan Institute for Social Research, released findings describing college students as scoring 40 percent lower in empathy than their counterparts did twenty years ago. But the studies don't tell the whole story, because they measure empathy by analyzing individuals' heart rates, their face gestures or voices fluctuations. They don't measure the online behavior that demonstrates Millennials do care, and they are well connected - and not just with one another, but with causes that benefit society at large as well as local communities.
What the studies don't take into account is how differently Millennials communicate as compared to the way we communicated 20 years ago. This change is driven by the exponential increase in the dissemination of information and the methods in which it is processed. With the launch of the Internet twenty one years ago, communication tools around the world began to change drastically and permanently. The Internet proved to be a game changer for nations, organizations, and individuals alike. Once social media was introduced, it enabled a new way for people, particularly the younger generation, to connect with one another, based on common interests, goals and even values.
This common set of values has helped to maintain vibrant networks that drive their members to connect with each other often, not just superficially, but in a real, yet virtual way. Because networks are only as strong as the relationships that exist among their members, without the real connection, the networks couldn't grow and wouldn't last. Yet, these networks comprised of Millennials continue to grow and are thriving, with more openness, inclusion and acceptance than ever before.
Because the connections are virtual, without barriers, and at a 24/7 pace, they are intense and difficult to manage. Not a big deal for Millennials, though. They grew up striving in this fast-paced environment. Today, the average person receives 63,000 words of new information every day, most of them via emails and social media. Thus, the challenge becomes how to sort the information into manageable, relevant chunks for consumption, and reacting appropriately. This ad-hoc process has enabled Millennials to drive strong actions that resulted in real change for large scale societal causes and for local issues.
Whether protesting against social injustice, global inequities, or reenergizing a political party Millennials have let their voices heard. In the U.S., Twitter played a big role in the 2008 presidential elections, as Millennials help hand the presidency over to then Senator Barack Obama with their innovative ways to engage others. By changing the traditional campaign tactics, Millennials were more engaged than during any other presidential election in the past.
Acts of kindness by Millennials don't have to mobilize masses around the world stage to matter. They happen in every community and in every town. Earlier this year, Tom Cledwyn, a 26-year-old Englishman, donated his kidney to a complete stranger. In New York City interns dedicated themselves to helping homeless people. The countless mentoring and volunteer sessions also confirm the level of commitment to giving back.
I've personally interacted with hundreds of Millennials and saw firsthand their passion to supporting the community and changing the world. They care. They have big goals and bigger expectations. They dream big and can wait their turns. Their networks are larger and better connected than any other generation before them. They believe they can do anything. They may show it in a different way, but they also have a high degree of empathy.
Millennials constantly communicate via social media and not as much face-to-face. Is this wrong? I don't think so. It's just different. Can Millennials be self centered? Yes, they can. But that is true for every other group too.
Rachel Boyd, a Marketing Project Manager and a long-term leader of the Millennial employee group at Aetna says "Millennials have grown up in a time of dynamic shifts - from the creation of the internet to changes in foreign policy." She says they have learned to change and to seize opportunities out of their comfort zone, not only because they had to, but because they wanted to. "We're looking to make our positive mark on society," Rachel affirms.
Julie Daly, executive director, of the Hartford Young Professionals and Entrepreneurs says: "I don't want to imply we care more than those who came before us, but [Millennials] do care, and we care a lot. We don't want things fixed for us, we want to be part of a very collaborative improvement process." She further states "the internet has made it very easy to quickly spread the word about global issues and causes, but I get the sense that [Millennials] tend to gravitate toward volunteer opportunities that make direct and visible impacts in our local communities."
I believe them because I have seen in action.
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