When I was in my 20s I had a real problem with speeding tickets.  New Hampshire has tough traffic laws and I was put up for “habitual offender” a couple of times, although with the help of a fantastic attorney I was never actually certified as habitual.   Good thing, because habitual offenders lose their license for years and sometimes go to jail.

Then I moved away from New Hampshire for 16 years and didn’t have any more trouble.  I thought it must be that I had grown out of my youthful recklessness.

Wrong.  Here I am, back in NH, and after only four years I find myself heading to court next week for a license suspension hearing.  So yesterday I went to a driver safety class to get some points taken off my driving record.

I didn’t get the memo that you’re supposed to be a 19-year-old boy in order to attend driver safety class.  But it was no problem for me to fit in because when they started bragging about how much trouble they’d been in I found myself easily able to compete.  In fact I had most of them beat by a long shot.

But here’s what was really interesting.  When I was their age, we would have sat in the back of that classroom with smirks on our faces and refused to participate.  We would have wisecracked to each other about how lame the class and the instructor were, and we would have considered ourselves way too cool to take any of the class content seriously.

These kids sat in the front, answered every question asked, and raised their hands eagerly when the instructor invited discussion.  They shared their experiences openly and they followed instructions when she asked us to work in groups or to fill out sections of our workbooks.  They acted like they were enjoying the class.  And these were not college kids, either.  Most of them had jobs like truck driver and stone mason.  Some of them had been in jail.  They all had tattoos and wore jeans and hoodies.  They swore like sailors as they told their stories about being arrested or having accidents.  But there was none of the cynicism and aloofness I would have expected from such a crowd back in my day.

It made me think about the difference between age and generational influence.   The young and old have always complained about each others’ values but clearly behavioral norms do change from one generational to the next. Millennials were raised to value education, to seek the advice of their elders, and to do everything in teams, and that’s exactly what they were doing in class yesterday.  And what difference does it make?  That class would have been truly painful for me if I’d had to sit through it with 20 versions of my arrogant, sarcastic younger self.  These kids made the day bearable.  The next time you feel compelled to complain about Gen Y, think about what you were like at their age.

Now if I could just figure out how to stop speeding.


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