It’s time for Millennials to become a generation. But it won’t be easy.
Millennials are “entitled narcissists” (Time), “lame” (The Daily Beast), and “idle trophy kids” (Boston Globe). They might “save the world” (Huffington Post) because they are “highly educated, self-confident, technologically savvy, and ambitious” (HowStuffWorks). Their ideal paid work is “first, Google; second, Apple; third, for themselves” (Forbes).
At least people are talking about us!
By and large, the media seems to value us insofar as we appear cutting edge. We represent to them the future – but it is a future they want to be the first to analyze, the first to understand, and the first to take advantage of. The media has never gotten over its complete inability to see Facebook coming, just like it never got over its inability to see Apple and Microsoft coming in the 1980s. The information and entertainment sources have developed a complex regarding these things, and their only in is to watch what Millennials are doing: Spotify, Vine, Pinterest. The recurrently new is also good for the 24 hour news cycle.
My position is that we do not yet have a Millennial generation. We do not yet have a self-understanding, or an understanding of the energy that is particular to our times. In a sense, the Baby Boom was the first generation and it has always been the only generation. When we think of a generation, we think of a unified restlessness, a new stance toward received wisdoms, a strained relationship with existing authorities, defining and new cultural symbols. This was the spirit of the 60s, but it has been assumed since then that every cohort should be a generation. Succeeding and even preceding groups (including the Greatest Generation) were viewed through the same lens. In short, the Baby Boomers expect us to be a generation, so they make us into one.
In practice, this means we have been pegged as the native users of Web 2.0.
Of course, there is a certain truth to that. But I am not sure we have yet interpreted it for ourselves. If Millennials are ever going to become a generation, it will be because we have taken our hearts seriously. Even jealously. Will we be the ones who defined the Internet or the ones defined by the Internet? The jury is still out on that one.
As long as CNN and the Pew Forum and Virgin Airlines are telling us who we are, that identity is simply an extrapolation from their own experience and a projection of themselves. There will be nothing really new because they can’t see it coming.
Their pressure is on us to accept the generational identity we’ve been given or come up with something else compelling. I reject both.
The Jewish and Christian scriptures use the idea of a “generation” both to describe continuity (“tell it to the future generation”) and discontinuity. The latter is closer to our meaning. We can be either “the generation of the righteous” or “a stubborn and rebellious generation.” But if we are to be either, we must hear the choice calling. And if to hear, then we must be ready. And if to be ready, then we must be dissatisfied.
The goal is not really to find a generational identity – the historians will sketch that profile. The goal is generational wholeness: justice, love, magnanimity. The goal is to find these things in a new context, stirring eternal embers to a new flame.
Our weakness is that our first thought is to action, or perhaps to discussion. Can I submit another possibility? Have you considered prayer? Not a mental wish to a moral Santa, not a quiet reflection on your goals, but a tracing of the limits of your soul, of peering over the edge. Of screaming out to that edge and begging forgiveness. Find an open field or a locked room and bleed your tears, because if there is a Spirit, niceties and naivetés will be useless.
It’s a weird suggestion, I know. But the deeper the mines in which we toil, the greater the gems we will carry. We need that precious rarity if we are going to offer the world anything more than a simple continuation of its current course.
Our goal at the Pray Channel of Humane Pursuits is to be a part of that new path, perhaps a chronicle. At least a kind word and a knowing nod. If you cannot believe, perhaps you can imagine. Certainly you can feel. If you do believe, the pressure is off to say the right thing. The Millennial path to spiritual engagement has not yet been forged, so please take up a sickle and swing with us.
Let’s get this generation started.
Master of light, perfect me. Let me walk in your presence and live.
Bryan Wandel works in government finance and has studied history, accounting, and religion. He is a member of the editorial board at Humane Pursuits. Bryan’s writing has appeared at Comment Magazine, First Things, and elsewhere.