There is an old meme that ran throughout the internet a few years ago. It came from the game Deus Ex: Human Revolution. The main character, Adam Jensen, is essentially wrecked by some cyborgs that attack a laboratory and has to be totally reconstructed via a Robocop-Esque montage. In regards to gaining his wicked sweet robot stuff, he utters the phrase “I never asked for this.” He didn’t beg to be a cyber person with his dying breath. Someone else decided to take the time to put a processor in his skull and the people around him assumed that he was okay with that. They assumed that he liked having robot arms and sunglasses embedded inside of his temples. They assumed a lot of things about him because he was thrust into a thing he never really thought about all that much.
When I was in second grade, I was a chubby kid. I was never athletic, opting to read as much as I could. I played video games, watched television and generally kept indoors. Field Day rolls around in late spring and everyone is required to participate. For some reason, I was put into a 100-meter sprint between the kid that played shortstop for the peewee league, the running back for the little league, and a girl that did gymnastics.I was the kid that aced his spelling tests and turned his in book reports on time. I looked at my “competition” and marveled at how this line-up even came into existence. Everyone knew who was going to place last, but I was required to go through with it. My loss was staggering.
I didn’t cry or whine about the loss. We were all friendly with each other and just moved onto the next thing. Most of the student body wanted to go back inside because Springtime in North Carolina was filled with sentient pollen that attacked your face and a humidity that was the equivalent of drowning in pea soup.However, at the end of the day, I got a ribbon. I looked at that ribbon and wondered what it said. I learned a new word that day. “Participation” was emblazoned on it in gold letters. It was a proud ribbon that was to be worn upon my chest like a valiant medal earned in an ungodly war. I remember questioning why I got it and I was told, “Because you tried your best!”
I never asked for that ribbon.
What people seem to misunderstand about “Millennial” culture is that a majority of the problems they have with us did not start with them. Everything has a genesis and it starts with situations such as mine. I was more interested in stories and laughing than doing a pull-up and that race became a joke to me and my friends the following year. But that ribbon came from someone who thought that it would “boost my self-esteem” so I wouldn’t “feel bad” about losing. I became wrapped in this security blanket that I didn’t want and it felt wrong. Someone who didn’t know me (or my generation) told our faculty to pass out these wastes of fabric to those who placed in anything not first, second or third. I never asked to be included because something was telling me at an early age that everyone can’t do everything.
I never asked for this.
Situations like that kept following me around through middle school and high school. Our lesson plans were forced to become slower. I could no longer call my friends “dumb” or “loser” in the cafeteria. Teachers would tell us to not talk about certain things because it made someone feel “uncomfortable.”When I disagreed with someone’s opinion in the classroom, no matter how asinine their reasoning, I was required to listen to every syllable they had to say. The freedom that everyone talked about with becoming a teenager became wrapped with that blanket more and more as I grew up. I now had to worry about someone else’s feelings because if I hurt them in any way, I was a monster. I was a monster for speaking my mind about how something made me feel. I was forced into compulsory empathy when I was already empathetic.
I am now in my late twenties. My social media feeds are littered with people complaining about how my generation is filled with “entitlement” and “soft skin.” I see people within my parent’s generation telling Millennials to “get over it” and “stop whining.” I look at these people and wonder where they thought all of this came from. These are the people that forced us into this “safe space” where everyone was supposed to have a turn. They created the facade that had no winners or losers. Everyone ate pizza after the ball game because hey, you tried your best. That’s what counts, little Timmy. Our generation didn’t storm the White House as stupid babies that demanded to be included in everything. We did not do a “Million Tricycle Ride” to the Lincoln Monument and tell our parents to keep us safe from “bad thoughts.” None of us, within my generation, knew why we were getting these things. Some of us were just happy to get a neat ribbon. Some of us thought it was bullshit.
But none of us asked for it.
When I went through the Director’s Cut for Human Revolution, I started to look at Jensen as someone who was forced into something he never wanted to participate in. He did work in a lab as a security guy, but he wasn’t making anything. He had been in a relationship with a scientist, but he knew nothing about robotics. When he was on the verge of death, the company he worked for rebuilt him without permission. Jensen was now walking the streets with a new lease on life, but something deep inside of him knew that he should not be here. There are people that hate him for a multitude of reasons, but the biggest one is that he was thrust into a thing that he never asked for.
When someone is put into a situation that they did not want to be in, we start to see what they are truly made of. Jensen was someone that was attempting to figure out who attacked the lab and why. It was a story that takes him across the world and forces him to question the people he had to protect. For me, I began to look at the things that led to these comments. I asked old friends and new ones about their time growing up. We all share similar stories about how we were just given things in school and at home without ever asking for them. We would question why we would get these things we knew we didn’t deserve and it would lead back to the adult feeling good that we didn’t have to go through what they went through.
Don’t make fun of the fat kid because they were the fat kid. Don’t call your best friend “dumb” because they were called dumb. Don’t talk about your religion because someone made them feel bad about having it. Our parents and teachers were so afraid of losing us to the horrors of life that they implanted all of these thoughts into our head as we grew up. But when we start to live our own lives and they see how ill-equipped we’ve become, it now falls on our shoulders to get a thicker skin. Pictures of people crying about the loss of an election are littered with comments of how entitled we’ve become and that we should step out into the real world. How are we expected to live in the “real world” when it has been shielded from us for so long? The logic behind it is confusing and faulty. When questioned, we are told that they were forced to give those things to us.
But we never asked for them. We were not given a choice.
The only way to fix this is to not repeat it with the next generation. We tell them how to roll with the punches and to learn from losses. Life is not always about winning, but about how we can rise from the ashes. We show them how to communicate with those that disagree with us and how to walk away. We tell them that not everyone wants to be your friend and that sometimes, it’s better to cut your losses. As we charge into the new year with more questions than answers, we can only keep our heads high and remember that despite everything that happens, we are on the cusp of something that will change history. That is our real human revolution.