Le Moyne recently hosted four American political representatives to participate in a panel on Respectful Civil Discourse. The panel consisted of Republican New York Senator John DeFrancisco, Republican Onondaga County Executive Joanie Mahoney, and Democrat New York Assembly Member Bill Magnarelli.

The discussion focused on civil discourse and what that means in today’s political climate. When the floor opened up for questions, a young lady stood up with an interesting opinion. She commented on how millennials are often very politically inclined, but don’t show it in the voting booths. She mentioned that we are constantly encouraged to write to our representatives, but often use inflammatory, accusatory language and as a result, our voices are not being heard.

The representatives responded by saying that, on all sides, respect will carry you for miles. Letters that are incendiary, rude, and threatening are instantly thrown into the trash. But letters that are respectful and thought provoking are taken into serious consideration.

In a poetic confirmation of this young woman’s point, a young man stood up and turned the conversation away from civil discourse and towards a rant on economics. It was difficult to get any solid quotes as the young man spoke rapidly, unclearly, and rambled about the economic state of the average millennial.

This incident is a perfect example of why there are so many articles complaining about millennials and blaming us for all the world’s troubles. We’re too angry, we’re unfocused in our rage, and we don’t understand how to ask nicely.

Most people would chalk it up to us being spoiled brats, given one too many participation trophies. We need to man up, because the real world has no trigger warnings. They think we’ve been ruined by technology, babied by a liberal education system, and that we need to grow up and face reality.

But I was in those classrooms as a child, where we learned about Rosa Parks, George Washington, and Abraham Lincoln. We learned that the good guys fight hard for what they believe in. We learned that quiet people rarely make history. That’s the Millennial Dream nowadays, not to conquer and rule, but to make a difference and be remembered.

The problem is that now we all think we can make history. We’re the generation that grew up on the Hunger Games and Harry Potter. We empathize with those young heroes, we see ourselves in them. And while that made us brave and made us believe in ourselves, now we all think we’re the leader of a revolution.

The truth is, we can’t all be heroes. It feels like admitting defeat to write those words. My heart is heavy in my chest when I consider the possibility that I’ll never change the world in any meaningful way, that I’ll fade into obscurity leaving this place no better than I found it. I don’t want to live a quiet, safe life. I want to be out there, on the ground, getting my hands dirty, and making things happen. I don’t want to accept that I might not ever get my big battle, my revolution, my adventure.

But it’s true. If we were all leaders, nothing would get done. Sometimes it can be just as powerful, if not moreso, to be quiet, to listen, and learn. We want what we want but we need to do it without screaming, without speeches, without fire and brimstone. We need to accept that not all of us will be Katniss Everdeen.

Leadership is something that can happen in many small ways, in quiet contexts, as well as in big dramatic ways. Being a leader in a workplace, on a small team of people, or in an extracurricular activity is an incredible thing, but we have to know when to share the stage. It doesn’t have to be a question of ‘lead’ or ‘follow;’ it’s crucial that everyone be capable of both. What’s important is recognizing when to lead and when to follow.

It’s difficult to be respectful in a society that disrespects you, but with the world falling apart, I don’t want to be another voice screaming into a void that isn’t listening. I want to get organized. I want to work together. I want my words listened to and my feelings understood.

If helping the world means biting my tongue, I’ll do it, gladly, but I wish Americans as a whole were willing to make that compromise more often. I’d rather work with my enemy to make a brighter future than join my friends in an endless cycle of noise and rage.