A millennial I respectHow do you feel about Millennials? Do you find them brilliant, or somewhat naive? Full of potential, or a boat anchor on society at large? Are they they bright promise for our collective future? Or do you expect them to euthanize us all at some random future trigger point?

Do you have a secret prejudice against them? I did. Not all of them, mostly just the ones I didn’t know. Nevertheless, I didn’t like it.

What we think about Millennials says a lot about ourselves. Pigeonholing them into any category (positive or negative) is neither helpful nor realistic. I noticed I was doing this and I decided to take a look at why (and fix it). When I did, I discovered something interesting:

When I changed my focus from whether they had any wisdom to what they could possibly offer, I discovered that what they can offer IS their wisdom.

Their wisdom is in new things I haven’t thought of yet because I come from a different place and time. Their genius is in the way they look at things—it’s not about what they know. Their perspective is automatically out-of-the-box (out of my box, anyway) just because they were born into a newer world.

Like me, they are both jaded and energized. But by some neat design they are energized about the same things I’m jaded about. Thank goodness—it’s how new life gets injected into the circumstances that have exhausted me over the years. Yes, some of them are naive. But that can serve to obscure obstacles that I’ve forgotten how to see beyond. And let’s face it, even after a long life some of us are still naive—or worse, unwilling to even consider something different.

Don’t get me wrong—I can come up with plenty of examples where sage wisdom from an older generation is ignored by a younger one. Consequences play out in time. But my hope is that we don’t just discount each others’ wisdom; that instead, we complement it. Their “why not this?” to my “that won’t work.” My “this is what happened when we tried that…” to their “let’s do this (not-so-new bad idea)!”

The fundamental question is this: Are we willing to respect each other enough to stop and listen? That respect requires a willingness to treat each other as equals. As human equals. I challenge you to do it. Someone has to go first.

(Photo: A Millennial for whom I have much, much respect.)