Generation Me & Heros

Welcome to the world of Wednesdays, where I want to reflect on wise words others wrote about the world around us…and use w’s.  So many w’s.

The idea that today’s emerging adults are as a generation leading a new wave of renewed civic-mindedness and political involvement is sheer fiction. The fact that anyone ever believed that idea simply tells us how flimsy the empirical evidence that so many journalistic media stories are based upon is and how unaccountable to empirical reality high-profile journalism can be.

-Christian Smith, Lost in Transition p. 224

I share the millennial label with my students, since it spans births from 1982-2000.  I work in an office entirely dedicated to service and social justice on a college campus.

And I agree with Christian Smith.

I agree with Jean Twinge, whose recent article takes a look back through the data mined for the book Generation Me.

“We”–whatever that means–don’t give time, money or effort to causes and community nearly as much as the stereotypes claims we do.  And those stereotypes come from within and outside of the generation itself.

I see it in the number of my friends who don’t recycle and who aren’t even registered to vote.

I see it in the students who won’t show up for our kick-off day of service unless we give them free shirts and In-n-Out.  In other words, pay me $15 to be there.

And goodness knows I see it in myself, even though I hate admitting it.

It’s not pessimistic to point to these anecdotal examples.  It’s realistic; the authors are examining actual data, after all.

And yet, as this school year wrapped up, I gave out an award to a young woman who, in the last two years is directly responsible for over 225 people serving over 14,000 hours and raising over $11,000 to get books in the hands of children from low-income communities.  She’s on her way to grad school to become a history teacher in inner-city schools.

We may be narcissistic overall, but there are plenty of exceptional young people doing amazing things.

Nancy Ortberg, in Unleashing the Power of Rubber Bands, claims that our culture is created by the stories we tell and the heros we create.

In light of who becomes a hero on the national level (and for what), we probably shouldn’t be all that surprised that millennials are not a glowing generation of justice-seekers.

But when we look to the circles where we have greater influence–classrooms, teams, small groups, families–we can claim the power we have to tell great stories and create heros.  In our office, we make heros out of student leaders who catalyze service.  In my church, we make heros out of people who give generously of their time and talents as well as those who go through hard times with great faith.

What’s heroic in your family?  Among your friends?  Where do you have the power to create the kind of heros you actually want to cheer for, instead of roll your eyes at?  Find that place and do it.

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