Opinion: Generation Z inspires confidence


They believe in their own agency and have a positive energy about them, believing they can make a change in their communities.

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When I heard Zexi Li of Ottawa explain on the radio why she wanted to protect her community by seeking a court order to stop the truckers from honking at all hours of the night, I knew I was listening to gen-Z speaking.

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The confident 21-year-old clearly believed in her own agency, understood how the system could work to help her community, weighed the risks of her actions, and stepped up. Yes, she had a legal team pushing the right buttons, but it was Li who would be the face of the class-action suit. She put her community’s well-being ahead of any concerns that personal attacks might follow.

In my restaurant, I am now surrounded by gen-Zers (generally defined as those born after 1996). The average age of my staff plummeted over the last two years, as millennials and gen-Xers left the industry in droves, providing me a small insight into this confounding generation.

I also have gen-Zers at home, where, as many of you know, eggs are not always served sunny side up. However, from working with gen-Zers, I have acquired a new and positive perspective on their generation, one that often appears in the glow of a cellphone 12 inches from their face (that’s 30cm, for those gen-Zers reading this).

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They are hardworking, courteous of colleagues and open-minded about learning. At the same time, they are comfortable with setting boundaries and challenging authority, politely but firmly. They also take remarkably good care of their mental health and understand its connection to their body’s well being.

The first time one of my new gen-Z employees asked for a short break to eat trail-mix they kept in their backpack, to ward off fatigue and keep themselves balanced, I was dumbfounded. My generational instinct searched for a reason to say “no,” but found none. They whisked away to eat and promptly returned with a smile behind their mask.

Now, the “they” thing. We, the gen-Xers, boomers and millennials must get over being incredulous and baffled by their pronoun usage. They simply wish not to be pigeonholed by anatomy or gender.

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As I explained to my mother: “Mom, remember when your generation fought to be called Ms rather than Mrs. or Miss? How did you not want your title to be determined by your marital status? Well, they just do not want their pronoun to be determined by a gender construct.”

I agree it is a tongue-twister from hell, one it seems only gen-Z have mastered. They fly, flip, twist and conjugate through grammatical air like a Cirque du Soleil artist, effortlessly landing on a singular “them.” Whereas I am as grammatically graceful as my first 10 Frankenstein monster steps of the morning.

As one friend, whose child is non-binary, rhetorically asked, “Anyway, who decided society had become progressive enough, and it should stop moving forward?” Sometimes it is only the young who can see the frontier.

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Another friend of mine talked enthusiastically about her students at Concordia, and how they showed their support for another classmate when presenting by snapping their fingers rather than clapping hands.

We both commented on how odd and intriguing the act was. Then I began to think how it made sense. A clap can be loud and supportive or quiet and demure. It can have a slow ironic meter, or be delivered in a rapid mocking manner. Whereas a snap is a snap. No one is lifted above the others, nor pushed down beneath. A collective working together, supporting one another, equally.

Gen-Zers face a collapsing climate and the most destabilized political order in the west since the Second World War. Yet they have a positive energy about them, believing they can make a change in their communities. Zexi Li is acting in line with her generation of her, just like their hero Greta.

We are in good hands.

David Ferguson, a gen-Xer, is owner and chef at Restaurant Gus, in La Petite-Patrie.

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