I don’t know about you, but I view the daily headlines with a sort of fascinated dread. I can’t bear to watch and I can’t turn away. Every day, there’s more bad news for public education, undocumented immigrants and the environment. Politicians seem less concerned than ever with constituent interests, while apparently becoming even more involved in unethical, if not illegal, dealings. Plus, it seems like every time I refresh my news feed, I learn about another hate crime against people of color or one more mass shooting somewhere. And that’s just here in the United States. Add the reports of human rights abuses in places like Syria and South Sudan, the terrifying instability on the Korean peninsula and other global concerns, and you’ve got yourself a recipe for utter despair.
Who is going to fix this huge mess we’ve created? The prevailing attitude is that today’s young adults certainly don’t have what it takes to straighten things out. Millennials, they dominate both cyberspace and the marketplace. If you believe the hype, you might think that all people born between 1982 and 2002 are over-educated, under-employed narcissists who live with their parents and sit around taking selfies all day.
And that is yet another reason why you should not believe everything you read.
Listen, I spend a lot of time with people between the ages of 15 and 35 (most of them either prepping for, attending or graduates of college). And yes, there are reasons why the stereotypes exist, but my experience has been that today’s generation offers great promise. Indeed, because of my relationships with these young adults, I have more hope, not less, for what lies ahead.
For the record, I don’t like the label “Millennials” because it carries such a broad and frankly inconsistent definition. I’ll use it here for convenience while I speak of them as a group, but know that they (just like any other members of a group classified by a single characteristic) are beautifully unique individuals who have their own priorities and interests.
First, almost all of my young friends have traveled abroad. They’ve visited Haiti, Guatemala, India and Kenya; they’ve gone to Europe, Asia and beyond. They have seen the difficulties other countries face and have witnessed creative solutions we’ve not yet tried here in the States. They have international peers who radiate contentment despite striking disadvantages. Sure, so-called Millennials may own the latest smart phones and they (like me) probably spend too much time on devices, but the young people I know do not, as a rule, feel entitled to their techno toys. Rather, they are grateful to live in a nation so rich with resources and recognize that this is a privilege not everyone enjoys.
Secondly, they care about the world. They are conscious of the amount of trash they produce and therefore recycle and reuse items that my generation would have carelessly destined for the landfill. They seek energy efficiency in everything from their cars to their lightbulbs. They appreciate clean water and are careful not to waste this valuable commodity. Until just recently, I never thought of how the food I purchased got to the grocery store. But my young friends can tell me where to get the best price on organic produce, hormone-free chicken and grass-fed beef. Most of the twenty-somethings in my life see environmental responsibility as a sacred discipline, a response to the divine call to care for God’s creation.
In addition, this generation so often accused of being manically self-absorbed, is made up of some of the most caring people I’ve known. They volunteer. They reach out. They build relationships across demographic boundaries. It seems to me that Millennials are just far more interested in loving than in judging. For example, I know a group of about 10 brawny young men who have a peer who has Down Syndrome. When they went off to college, they vowed to stay connected to their dear friend. They’re college seniors now and have kept their promise. To a person, these young men will tell you that they feel closest to Jesus when they spend time with their very special friend.
Young people today seek to join the fight for justice. Thus, they spend their money where they can make a difference. They shop local, they buy from companies that give back to the community and they support businesses that pay a living wage. It’s not enough for my friends to get a good pair of cheap socks. Most of them would rather pay more and get the socks from a small business that supports local causes. Now that’s sustainable action that leads to lasting transformation.
Millennials: they are so much more than a flimsy caricature of entitlement. That’s why, when I find myself distracted by negative predictions for the future, I think of my young friends. They give me hope that one day, God’s Kingdom will come, God’s will will be done on earth, just as it is in heaven.