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Hey Millennials, Can We Talk?

Kathryn McCallum
Flickr CC
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Sour economy. Sour marriages. Sour politics. If you’re feeling a little disaffected, my Millennial friend, we get it. But let’s talk about why your life is still a great adventure.

The good news, Millennials, is that you’re not the first to have to explain your generation to a host of disapproving elders. People have been talking about “the me generation” ever since the Boomers came of age in the 1970’s, so you’re in good company. Older people will probably never be quite satisfied with the speed at which the next generation matures.  

Still, you shouldn’t dismiss them completely. As you already know, older people have a hard time understanding your dogged attachment to your smart phones and social media. But this isn’t just about getting over their old-people aversion to new technology. They’re genuinely worried about you, and they have some reason to be.

The concern, Millennials, is that you seem to be having trouble getting settled into adult life. You may not be too worried about it yet (surveys say you aren’t), but your parents appreciate how much traditional sources of community can help in keeping you sane and grounded, and in seeing you through those difficult periods that most everyone encounters at some point in life. Thus, they worry about the fact that so few of you are married. They’re alarmed by your lack of interest in traditional religion and mainstream politics. It concerns them to see that, for all your rosy optimism about your own prospects, you don’t seem to trust other people.

There are lots of reasons for this detachment. You’ve faced some substantial challenges over these last ten years. It might seem to you that these institutions (church, marriage, politics and civil society) just aren’t offering you very much. I think ultimately you’re wrong about that, but I understand your skepticism.

You grew up in the era of Highly Effective People. From your early school days you were taught to set their sights on higher education and lofty professional goals. Many of you bought into the program, but thus far the payoff has been meager. A lot of you emerged from college with staggering loans (far more than your parents had) and found yourselves applying all that education towards bussing tables or stocking shelves as you struggle to pay off loans.

Sadly, those of you who refused the college racket have struggled even more in a weak economy. You’re depressingly likely to be unemployed or working low-wage, often part-time jobs that offer limited opportunities for advancement. You know that your employment prospects dwindle further the longer you’re out of work. It used to be more possible for a hard-working person to find a steady job in this country, even without specialized skills. But now, for many of you, the chances of having a productive life seem to be fading right before your eyes.

This leads us to the subject of marriage. Your elders often fail to understand that you’re not really opposed to it. For many of you it just seems like a distant dream. You were taught to see marriage as the culmination of a broader process of maturation, coming after education and professional and financial establishment. What if those things never happen? If you’ve come to see marriage as a kind of reward for worldly success, you may find yourself in the unhappy position of concluding that anyone who’s willing to have you must not be the sort of husband or wife that you would want.

As for politics, am I the only one who’s noticed how politicians spend their time competing for the affections of older people? Understandably, you’re fairly confident that all these elderly-care initiatives will bring you more bills than benefits. Now the new health care laws are pressuring you into picking up still more bills for their elders. Nothing new to see here, apparently.

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