An Earnest Apology Letter
Dear Gen Z,
Whew. I am not sure how to start this letter because, wow, the last few years have been an absolute nightmare, but here’s where I’ll begin: I am so sorry.
I am sorry that we haven’t been the best stewards of your coming adult years, and the messages you receive are pretty egregious. I am sorry that older folks criticize everything you do. Your hair. Your clothes. Your choices in music. The time you spend on electronic devices (hello, pandemic?). Your acceptance of your peers no matter their choices. I watch as adults tell you that you have no focus and you’re lazy. “In my day…” is a common refrain that is usually followed by an unreachable benchmark that likely isn’t true anyway.
In their day, college was cheap. In their day, they didn’t carry the immense burden of worrying about active shooters. In their day, the planet wasn’t in active meltdown. In their day, abortion became legal and established precedent. In their day, the country wasn’t fed misinformation daily. In their day, electronic devices weren’t even available! And, let’s be honest, now that they are, they spend just as much time on their devices as you do.
You give me hope. I wish the burden of hope wasn’t placed squarely on your young shoulders, but here we are. You are earnest and thoughtful. You don’t judge people’s choices. You believe there is good in the world, and you actively search for it. You are able to actually multi-task and not just say you can. You are whip-smart and savvy. You recognize BS from a mile away. You carefully observe the adults around you and know they aren’t going to save you. Sure, we would like to help, but we are hamstrung by so many factors. I hope those factors improve as you get older.
I see that you are already improving some things. You know that the planet is in danger; you don’t blind yourselves and ignore it. You are actively trying to help.
You see that gun violence is a choice we make in this country. We aren’t just unlucky-we actively decide to live like this. I’ve cried as I’ve watched shooting after shooting with no real change, but I see that the trauma has molded you into a generation that might have just had enough.
You see that systemic racism is something that has to be recognized before it can be changed. You don’t stick your head in the sand and refuse to learn our history, even as adults around you try to stop you from seeing it.
You protect others; I have witnessed screaming tantrums from adults about the simple task of wearing a mask, but I watched your generation head to school masked every day with no complaints about it. You wanted to get vaccinated because you knew that was the best way to protect your community.
You respect people and their choices; your friends feel safe being themselves because you allow them space to do so. That is such a powerful force in this world, and there’s not enough of it.
You know that people need to be able to do what is best for them; while my generation assumed the rights of women were a given, you see that they are not. You know they can be taken away, and you were ready to spring into action when the unthinkable actually happened. Your anger drove a message throughout the summer and into the fall: enough.
You are big and bold, and you use your voices. I am constantly flabbergasted by the amount of knowledge you carry with you. Those devices have given you endless information, and you use it well. You are funny and clever, and you are more optimistic than I would expect.
And you know what? Tuesday proved something I had assumed for a long time. The adults running things? They are terrified of you. You fashioned yourselves into a big wall that stopped a “red wave”. You came out, you stood in line, and you encouraged your friends to do the same. It turns out the generation defined by active shooter drills doesn’t just spend all your time online. You vote. And you vote in numbers that make a huge difference. For three election cycles, you have come of age and decided to do something about the problem. And you’ll only get bigger and stronger from here. You have a seat at the table now.
I wish all of this didn’t fall on you. I wish the adults around you could see that your future is important and imperiled. There seems to be an attitude of, “oh well, I’ll be dead” about so many things in this world. But you won’t be, and it will fall on you to clean everything up so life as we know it can continue. I am so sorry that we have failed you. In a country that claims to be so pro-children, we have simply not lived up to those ideals. There is so much work to be done; it is almost hard to fathom.
But I know you’re up to the task.
A Gen X-er