“Make the world a better place.” If anything should be printed in the instruction manual of the world it’s that. You’re going to inherit this big ball of water and land and people and cities and cultures and nations and history. So hopefully you’re ready for the responsibility that comes with it.
If you are young–early in a career, still finding a career, or still in school, it’s a good idea to take a look at the world so you can see what you will be inheriting. The old retire and pass away, and a new generation inherits the world they built. None of us have a choice in this. This is the hand we are dealt whether it’s fair or not. For millennials like me, gen z, and younger, we are inheriting the world as it is today. There’s a common joke from these last few years: “I’m tired of living in unprecedented times”. But like a certain wizard once said, we don’t get to decide what times we live in. All we can do is decide what to do with the time we have.
So what are younger people inheriting? One Washington Post article called my own generation The Unluckiest Generation. Since that article we’ve had a few more unprecedented changes: Supreme court rulings setting US civil rights back decades, and a genocidal war Russia started in Ukraine. This is the world our elders are leaving behind–a world with democratic institutions so decayed they could have ended on January 6th 2021. This is a world where basic necessities of becoming middle class, like buying a home, have become almost impossible for most people who didn’t have the luck of being born earlier when prices matched average incomes.
Half the US senate is over 65, with leadership between the ages of 70 to 90. These aging gerontocrats who refuse to retire hold back the natural order of youth inheriting and growing into power in the world. By refusing to retire they not only hold back younger generations, but their old ideas hold back society while their own ability to take necessary actions dwindles with age. By holding on for so long they are also ensuring no one can get the experience that comes from rising up through the political ranks. They have not bothered to train a new generation and the results will be young politicians thrown into the deep end when their time comes.
All of this, plus climate catastrophes, a new cold war with China, a global pandemic, and extreme political divisions in the US along with the growth of right-wing terror organizations makes it clear younger generations have their work cut out for them.
It shouldn’t come as a surprise that many younger people today fall into nihilistic traps (think incel culture, gamer gate culture, and joining far right online communities) and have a deep pessimism of liberal nations and culture.
While older generations saw the triumphs of their society from landing on the moon to the fall of the Berlin Wall and the triumph over Communism, my generation and younger have never seen big triumphs. The big events in my life have been 9/11, the failed wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the 2008 Great Recession, and now events like COVID, Donald Trump, Brexit, and reactionary supreme courts reversing civil rights victories from decades ago. We have never experienced our own society triumphing. It’s hard not to see all these losses without pointing fingers at the older generations that have been in charge during our lives.
I don’t know if we’ll ever have what our parents had. The Baby Boomers may remain the richest single generation in history for a long time to come.
Times may change, and maybe we’ll catch up, but even if we don’t then that is not the end. There’s a lot of good we can do in this world if we work at it. If we can make the world a better place despite unwillingly sacrificing our own well being then it will have been worth it. We didn’t ask for this, but we can choose to put in the work required to make a better world anyway.
That work can itself be a source of happiness. When you’ve got a purpose and it’s meaningful and you make progress towards it then you’re on your way to happiness.
Stop worrying about whether you will catch up or whether you will ever be as wealthy as you once thought. There are more important things in life. No one will fondly remember a generation that got rich and let the world crumble to keep itself in power, nor will it fondly remember a generation that gave up because they were unlucky. Work towards making the world a better place–there is no one more worthy and deserving of praise than people who try to make the world a better place.
Maybe we lost out, but that doesn’t mean we should sentence our children and future generations to the same or worse fate. That is a sacrifice we should take pride in making. We didn’t break the world, but we can choose to change it for the better and ensure those in the future will have better lives.
This means thinking long term. This isn’t going to be a five year project. We won’t know how we did until we’re old and hunched over our canes. What acts can you do, big or small, that will make the world a better place?
You have more power than you think, and you will gain power as older generations retire and pass away. The world will increasingly be ours to make of it what we can. We need to accept this responsibility and take charge of it ourselves. That is the destiny of every generation, and if our elders don’t like what we make of it, then tough. It will happen whether they like it or not. Don’t be scared of taking over from them.
This means being politically active. It means far more than just voting and activism. Older politicians will retire and positions in electoral politics will need filling. Consider running yourself. But most importantly, and this is something I think many forget, the key to all political acts is the art of persuasion. Good ideas don’t automatically convince people on their own. You need to work hard to convince people the good ideas you have are right and should be supported.
Changing the world happens in more than just legislative and government buildings. Companies create expectations and set pay rates, and help determine what we value as a society. They set examples by their decisions and change the lives of their employees and customers, sometimes for the good, sometimes for the worst. The young will inherit the leadership positions of the corporate world, as well as every position on the corporate ladder below them. Push for changes and build a better world there as well.
We have tools no other generation had. The internet is a tool whose usefulness is impossible to exaggerate. What would society during the pandemic have looked like if we didn’t have the internet and Zoom/Team conferences to keep us connected, businesses running, and something to keep our minds occupied in social isolation? For all the evils of social media companies, they are fundamentally still tools we can use for tremendous good.
We still haven’t completely come to terms with the fact that we all now carry in our pockets a device that connects us to the combined collective knowledge of humanity with a few finger taps. These are immensely powerful tools. On top of all that, modern medicine and health research means we’ll live longer and healthier lives than any previous generation and that gives us more time to act.
We may be facing catastrophes and evils, but they are neither evils that are impossible to overcome, nor are we lacking in tools to tackle them. Do what you can to make the world a better place. Whether the acts you take are big or small, at least at the end you’ll be able to look back on your life with pride if you took action.