Why Do So Many Young People Doubt Real Authority Figures?
Who taught them to defy actual wisdom and discount earned experience?
Posted December 12, 2019 | Reviewed by Jessica Schrader
Talk to many bosses of younger employees, from 18 to just under 40 (which takes in Generation Y and Z workers as well), and you will hear many of the same complaints about them being chronically late; uninspired to do work that isn't always exciting; more effective when working in teams than when working alone; attention-, reward-, and praise-seeking; and always looking for technology solutions (the next killer app) when the answer is to apply more elbow grease to the project.
Why, if we narrow the lens of criticism of the below 30-crowd in particular, do we hear so many complaints beyond just managers and supervisors but from other certified, credentialed, experienced professionals, who feel they are second-guessed, argued with, ignored, discounted for "being old," or challenged for their expertise by people who have none of their own. Physicians now post signs in their exam rooms that declare, "Please don't confuse your Google search with my medical degree." Few of us would have the stones to say to a commercial pilot, "I know how to fly this thing better than you." But those types of statements are routinely said to medical doctors, who may have a minimum of 10 years of educational and clinical experience, and find themselves in a disagreement with a patient who saw something about elbow cancer on WebMD.
Teachers, principals, and school counselors at the K-12 level complain about the lack of respect for their professions, first in the classroom and from the Gen Y parents they meet in parent-teacher conferences. These parents refuse to believe their "little angel" has done anything wrong and blame the educational professionals when they neglected to give their kids enough "Vitamin No" when growing up. College professors and deans are threatened with lawsuits by students they try to fail when those same students have turned in plagiarized work (and I can speak from experience on that one, as a former grad school instructor).
Cops get no respect during traffic stops or when dealing with drunken Gen Ys, who seemed to have watched several episodes of "Judge Judy" and suddenly know U.S. constitutional law better than the officers. (Again, I can only attest to that after 15 years with San Diego PD.) Judges have to tell Gen Ys not to wear pajamas, bedroom slippers, and tank tops into their courtrooms.
Even the librarians have complaints about Gen Y and Gen Z patrons. The noisy, disruptive, entitled, don't-you-dare-tell-me-what-to-do patron is now a part of their world. Remember when libraries used to be quiet places, where people could read, research, study, think, and learn? Yeah, me either.
Where does all this defiance of earned authority from the younger generations towards the older ones come from? Is it just from what they have learned from their parents, their peers, TV shows and movies, social media, and the news media to distrust wisdom and doubt expertise? Or is it really that they don't understand the necessity, value, and existence of hierarchies?
The definition of hierarchy is a group of people or things arranged in order of rank or the people that rank at the top of a system. It has to do with things like job titles; rank structure in military and para-military organizations, like police and fire departments use; bachelor's degrees and advanced degrees beyond that; status gained by years of experience in a certain profession, where the barriers to entry are high (you gotta pass organic chemistry if you want to go to medical school; you gotta do well on the LSATs if you want to get into law school; first, get your private pilot's license, then get your Instrument Rating, then get your multi-engine rating, then get your jet rating, then go apply at Southwest), and wisdom based on more than just book learning but by application, and often under stress, and all that experience leads to a little or a lot of gray hair on top of their heads.
Certain Gen Y and Gen Zers discount the value of hierarchies as being another example of patriarchal, male-dominated, racist, misogynistic systems that have outlived their usefulness because they have excluded people who could not afford to join its ranks. In 1950, this was more than true. As we approach 2020, not so anymore. There is room and opportunity for you to go to where you want to go and be who you want to be, but for you to achieve success in whatever hierarchy you want join - from being an online entrepreneur to the VP of a bank, going to the military as a private and leaving as a Captain, or starting as a student and ending up as a dean, or going from nurse, to Physician's Assistant, to medical doctor - you have to enter your chosen hierarchy and swim with its tide. That doesn't mean you must sacrifice your personality, suck up to people you hate, or abandon your values, morals, or ethics. It does mean you will have to respect those above you for what they have achieved, even if you don't always agree with their approaches.
The reason some people have to be in charge is that without order life would be chaos. The grocery store manager gets to set the work schedule for the store employees because he or she knows what needs to be done and how to do it. The battalion chief at the fire scene tells the captain what to do and he or she tells the firefighters what to do. The plant manager tells the plant operators what to do and they tell the plant workers. There are hundreds of examples of how people have to be in charge of churches, families, businesses, governments, and more importantly, who and when to take charge during emergencies.
We want the leaders of these hierarchies to lead not rule. We want them to be firm and fair and consistent and reasonable as they do. When they aren't or they don't, we want consequences in place that can correct them or help us remove them. We don't want tyrants and despots in charge of the parts of our lives that need hierarchies. But we also can't have constant second-guessing for any hierarchy - which can affect the success of the totality of its members - to succeed.
If you want personal and professional success, figure out the rules of the many hierarchies you interact with —at school at home, at work —and swim in those directions. It's not always about who is right versus what is right, but sometimes the people who are in charge are there for a lot of good reasons. Wisdom is cultivated over time. Experience comes from learning the right and wrong ways to do things. Education comes from institutions and by being hands-on in a chosen field. Can we have a little more respect for the people who have done what you want to do and gone where you want to go?