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Never mind the divisions caused by Brexit, the most corrosive social trend is the constant denigration of young people by Baby Boomers who really should know better.
The most odious articulation of this spiteful and contemptuous treatment of fellow human beings who had the misfortune of being born around the Millennium inevitably resorts to the use of the term ‘snowflake’.
A snowflake is a thing of wonder and beauty, each one perfectly formed with natural symmetry. But the term has been twisted and corrupted to mean a young man or woman who melts away at the first sign of trouble. Someone who dissolves into a puddle when the going gets tough. In essence, a person who is unfit for purpose.
Snowflake has become the defining insult of the age, commonly used and rarely challenged. It routinely trips off the tongues of members of my generation, usually accompanied by a knowing raised eyebrow and a sneer, as we coalesce around another group of victims to blame for whatever is intruding into our cosy little later lives.
It is the default subject for star columnists in national newspapers and on TV. They are all at it: The Daily Mail‘s Tom Utley, Sam Kiley at Sky, Julia Hartley-Brewer, Melanie Phillips among them even Bryony Gordon, who deservedly has won plaudits for her honest and brave account of living with mental illness, has mocked the young in this way.
How brave it is, from behind the comfort of their desks in sparkling newsrooms afforded by well-paid jobs, to poke fun at young people who can’t answer back. And oh, how they chortle around the editorial conference desk, those middle-aged and predominantly male and white editors, at the cleverness of it all. Their equally middle-aged readers love it, to judge by the online comments.
Frankly, I’m ashamed of the mendacity of my generation, which derides the young yet turns a blind eye to our own frailties.
We say the young don’t have the stomach for the real world, yet it is men and women of my age who are most likely to die of suicide. We are the ones who are hiding behind cigarette smoke and booze, with poisoned livers and withered lungs. We are responsible for the surge in sexually transmitted diseases, as our first and second marriages fail. We are the ones who have turned families against each other, through our determination to put our own happiness and gratification before all others. Show me an over 50, and I will show you an emotional wasteland.
I have news for baby boomers. I have seen the snowflake generation, and they are tough. They grow up in broken homes, and experience deeper poverty and deprivation than the generation before. At school, they are driven harder and further than their parents, only to find that their outstanding qualifications count for little. They leave university with unimaginable debt and enter a labour market that barely pays a living wage. They tolerate inadequate and expensive housing, abusive landlords and absurd commutes. Yet they stick at it, hard-working and committed. In the UK youth unemployment is remarkably low, and youth itself must be given immense credit for that.
Does it matter, this constant belittling of an entire generation? I fear that it does. It threatens to undo the progress that has been made in tackling the stigma of mental illness. As these views become entrenched they weaken the case for investment in mental health services for the young, and they let business off the hook in the battle for fair terms of employment. It deepens the division among generations and fuels resentment. Not content with screwing them over housing, tuition fees, jobs and pensions, we deride them as feckless and unreliable.
I have every confidence that, when the time comes, millennials will be far more generous to a younger generation. They will be better parents, and work harder than we ever have to create a fairer society. In the meantime, Baby Boomers would do well to remember who will be funding their extravagant lifestyles during implausibly long retirements, and who will be nursing them when their minds no longer connect with their bodies. How precious a snowflake will feel then.
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