There is a lot of talk nowadays about people quitting their jobs and looking for better opportunities. And, one of the issues of present is RTO or return-to-work orders. With the COVID-19 pandemic having forced a lot of people to make work-from-home arrangements since 2020, many now would rather leave their jobs than report back at the office full-time.
It is in this context, among others, that we hear older people complain about “millennials.” And many of their comments highlight negatives about this particular generation’s attitude, behavior, and work ethic. Older folk usually see younger ones as lacking in grit or resourcefulness, and determination to succeed. Of course, the older folk still measure “success” by way of wealth, asset ownership, and social status.
To put things in perspective, let us first define the generations: The Silent Generation (born 1928-1945), Baby Boomers (1946-1964), Generation X (1965-1980), Generation Y or “millennials” (1981-1996), and Generation Z (1997-2012). Borrowing these definitions, millennials, as of 2022, will be in the age range of 26-41 years.
Relative to Philippine population, as of 2020, the biggest segment is that of 25-54 years (37%), followed by 0-14 years (33%), 15-24 years (19%), 55-64 years (6%), and 65-above (5%). About 70% of the population is aged 54 and below, and 56% include millennials or Gen Y. Of the labor force, statistics also indicate that most employed Filipinos are males from the millennial age group.
Given these statistics, it is unsurprising that millennials are the subject of many of today’s discussions concerning changing work ethics and attitude. They are in focus primarily because of their numbers and dominance in the present labor force. Over time, the focus will shift to the succeeding generation, and with the comments — perhaps still generally negative — coming from millennials themselves.
I believe it is common for older generations to complain about the younger ones, and to compare their experiences — their successes and failures — with that of their children and grandchildren. It is also but normal, I believe, for grandparents and parents to be apprehensive and concerned about their children’s future, based on what they see in the present.
Frankly, I am just as guilty as others in quickly pointing out the perceived flaws of the younger generation, and how they don’t seem to measure up to the standards of my generation or the generation before me. But I have also come to realize that nothing can be more unfair, both to the present and to the past generations. After all, to do so is like comparing sweet apples to sour oranges.
Everything about their time and history and economy are different. And various external factors like geography, politics, economics, science, and technology all impact their respective eras or time. The world has changed significantly since the early 1900s, undergoing various kinds of evolutions and revolutions. Invariably, people have also changed over the same period.
But, as a matter of nature, each past generation always believes itself to be better than the present one. And each past generation always thinks that it had things worse during its time. The fact is, however, that each generation dealt with its problems using solutions limited to the resources available at the time. Successes in dealing with problems, in this regard, are always relative.
The benefit of hindsight is available only to the present. But history also shows us that the problems of the present are more complex than those of the past, while science reveals to the present that the problems of the future can be far worse. This situation raises the question of whether we, at present, are preparing for the future.
Towers always start with a strong foundation, then go up one segment at a time, with each segment building on top of the other. A weak foundation, or segment, or section will eventually lead to the tower’s collapse, whether partial or in full. Then, one needs to start all over again. Despite setbacks, however, a strong tower can eventually be completed, perhaps to stand the test of time.
It is the same way in building a nation. The thing is, in nation building, there is no reset button. There is no rewind. There is no going back, only moving forward. Starting over again is not an option. And, one can only hope that the future will always be better than the past. The burden is almost always on the present, to make sure that it is building on the past in a way that will ensure a better future.
One should thus be less critical of the weaknesses or shortcomings of the present generation, considering that the weakening of the present is also the failure of the past. The present is the reflection or manifestation of what the past had failed to do, while the future is the consequence of the failures of both past and present.
So, to the question which is the better generation, ultimately, the answer is, and should always be, the succeeding generation. Otherwise, there is no progress, no improvement of people’s lives. Only of the present adding its own failures to that of the past — and all these failures, to be inherited by the future. In this sense, one can assume that mankind is doomed, no matter what.
The challenge, I believe, is for older generations to be less critical. Instead, they should guide and assist the present generation in making sure that future generations will always do better than everybody else before them. Even if the present generation refuses to listen. For it is only in giving up on the present that we are truly, surely dooming the future.
Marvin Tort is a former managing editor of BusinessWorld, and a former chairman of the Philippine Press Council