If you look up synonyms of “petty” on Thesaurus.com, you’ll find terms such as “unimportant”, “small”, and “minor.” You’ll also find words like “narrow-minded” and “shallow.” Petty is the perfect word to describe many of the millennials of today: people being narrow-minded and shallow about unimportant, small, minor things. It isn’t just a word that older generations are using to mock us millennials, either; it’s a label that many of us claim boldly as if it’s something to be proud about. I’m here to tell you that the petty trend has to go.
I don’t deny that there are definitely some older people who have jumped on the petty bandwagon, but this article is a criticism of the millennials who own the petty label like it’s a cute, positive personality trait. Before you knock me as just another millennial who’s being petty about other millennials, let me say that there’s nothing petty about calling out people who need to be called out. Sure, we can talk about how there are bigger things to worry about, but it’s kind of hard to worry about those bigger things when our generation is taking pride in what is essentially being mean to each other. I’m not talking about letting others know that they’ve done something wrong; we owe it to each other as a human being to let each other know when we’re slipping up. I’m talking about taking trivial situations of life and using them as excuses to act out and be rude to others.
Google search “petty memes”, and you’ll be met with a plethora of jokes that put a positive spin on pettiness, displaying it as something to make light of and own with pride. When you really think about it, being petty is nothing more than calling people out for useless things. I’ve spent my fair share of time on the Internet, and I’ve seen everything from people shaming each other in Odyssey article comments over whether they bought or adopted a dog to people glorifying manipulative actions in relationships. Urban Dictionary may cater to millennials, but at least it still rightfully gives a negative connotation to “petty”: “a person who habitually overreacts”; “a person who is purposefully childish with the intent of eliciting a reaction”. There is a lone definition that reads “[t]he act of keeping it too real, while others find it offensive. 100% honesty, even if it’s ‘mean.’” Turning childish behavior into simply “keeping it real” is the reason people are so mean to each other nowadays. We haven’t turned into “sensitive snowflakes” as much as we have just gotten comfortable being mean as long as we call it by the name of “brutal honesty.”
I get that sometimes it’s totally right to call someone out. Your partner cheated on you? You have a right to be upset. You’re in a Facebook argument with someone? I get it; debates can be intense no matter the forum. However, there’s a right and wrong way to go about being upset. It sounds like a ridiculous thing to say, but when literally every situation under the sun, no matter how minuscule, is glorified in a “petty meme”; a line has to be drawn. When we use “honesty” as a synonym for “petty,” what we really mean is that we want to be justified in being rude to other people. It means that we think bullying is okay as long as the other person deserves it enough.
I’m not suggesting that we start censoring each other. I get that we have the constitutional right to freedom of speech. What I am suggesting is that we start acting like the generation of “acceptance” and “tolerance”. Many millennials pride themselves in being kinder, more understanding, and more accepting than older generations. Those same people will then turn around and find excuses to humiliate others and then glorify their pettiness under the guise of “brutal honesty.” We have to stop pretending that being petty is cute, trendy, and something to take pride in. If we are truly the generation that is understanding and accepting, we can’t put petty personality traits on a pedestal.
I’ve been both on the giving and receiving ends of pettiness, and it’s not worth trying to follow the Mean Girls-esque trend. I am a millennial, and I think the petty trend has to go. There is nothing accepting, tolerant, or inclusive about finding reasons to be mean to someone.