Lately, I’ve been reading a lot about how some people feel that the Millennial Generation — my generation — is weak and sheltered.

In the wake of calls for safe spaces for all students at universities across the country, there has been push back from administrators, other adults, and fellow Millennials about how coddled this generation is. A “that’s just the way the world works” mantra has been thrown around in support of college administrators who remind their students that they go to a university, not a daycare.

And, yes, maybe my generation is more sensitive to the effects of language. Maybe my generation does have a lower tolerance for harsh words. But my question to the generation who raised us is, “What did you expect?”

Let me explain. As a kid, I was taught a lot about the power that words have to be incredibly harmful. My classmates and I were taught conflict resolution skills in first grade; I sat through cyberbullying prevention assemblies when I was too young to have an email address. On one particularly memorable occasion, my health teacher started a unit on eating disorders by telling us a story of how a seemingly innocuous comment send a young woman spiraling into a years-long battle with anorexia, so we should think carefully about what we say about other people’s appearances. We were endlessly reminded that the words we used against each other had real, lasting effects on the people we teased or bullied.

After such a comprehensive education, it’s interesting that the narrative suddenly has changed now that I’m an adult.

Suddenly, there are no more I-statements to tell someone how their words make you feel. Instead of acknowledging that words can hurt, we are told that they are “only words.” Sticks and stones may break my bones, and all that. Where once slurs and insults were trained out of our vocabulary, they suddenly reappear in the actions of the people all around us. It’s terribly confusing to be told that we have to carefully choose our words in our interactions with each other and then be condescended to for expecting that from other generations.

The lesson that stuck with me the most from my childhood is that if you witness bullying and don’t say anything about it, you are as accountable as the person doing the bullying. Endlessly, we were taught to swallow our cowardice and do our best to stop the bullying of those around us. The excuse that they were “just words” or “that’s the way things are” was not good enough. We were taught that we had the power to make the world work a different way. So, why is it different when we are adults? If we are expected to change the culture of a public school bus by collectively deciding to be nice to each other, why can’t we replicate that mission as adults?

The world does not have to be scary and mean; that’s the way the world works because that’s the way we’ve allowed the world to work.

Now, I’m talking specifically about the ways that the Millennial generation is highly conscious of the power of words. We’ve been trained to think carefully about what we say to each other from a very young age, so it makes sense to me that we are quick to point out hate speech and mean language. Like I said, maybe our generation is a lot more sensitive. Maybe we have been protected from the harsh realities of the “real world.” And maybe that’s not such a great thing.

But I like to think that it’s not sensitivity that causes Millennials to speak up in the face of hate speech and bullying. It’s our way of being brave enough to speak up, as we’ve been taught to do.

We’ve been told that we have the capability to change the world, and we intend to try.

Kim Carter is an English student at the University of Maine at Augusta with an expected graduation in December 2016. She is also involved in many other activities on campus including working as a representative in the Student Government, tutoring in the Writing Center, playing the guitar and singing at campus events, speaking at academic presentations, and giving campus tours.


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