Millennial Optimism

I see and hear a lot of folks bashing today’s young people (often called “Millennials”).  Common accusations are that they are lazy, ignorant, and naive.  The principal stereotype is a young man sponging off his parents, living in their basement and playing video games all day.

As with all stereotypes, of course such people exist.  But do they fairly represent the generation as a whole?

Of course as it ages every generation tends to believe the younger generation is less industrious and moral than they were.  As this great post from Laura Grace Weldon shows, that complaint is as old as civilization itself.

I don’t share those negative opinions of the Millennials.  In fact, I have a very high view of the young generation of today.  As a whole they have an idealism and an optimism that holds great promise for the world.

As this post points out, they have a lot going against them.  They’re entering adulthood during very tough economic times.  Finding a job can be extremely difficult.  They’re often saddled with student loans they can’t possibly expect to pay back on the salaries they’re capable of earning.  They’re delaying marriage, delaying buying homes, delaying having children.  They’re inheriting a lot of mess caused by my generation’s overconsumption.

Yet as a group they’re optimistic about the future.  And best of all, they’re anxious to be a part of making the world a better place.  As the blog puts it:

Young people today seek a life of meaning and believe they can change the world. 87% of Millennials in the U.S. surveyed by Barna said they want to find a life full of meaning. Another study by Telefonica found that 52% of U.S. Millennials believe they can make a global difference. Many delay higher-paying jobs to work for Teach for America or the Peace Corps, and corporate giants like IBM know that if they want to attract Millennials, they need to make it clear they’re “in the business of making the world work better.”

Lots of young people are taking up sustainable farming, for example, knowing they’ll never have much money but preferring that life to one spent climbing the corporate ladder and keeping up with the Joneses.  As a whole, they’re more likely than older generations to eat ethically and see the big picture when choosing their food.  Of course that’s just one of many ways the idealism of the younger generation is reflected in the way they live.

So while I continue to hear how our culture is doomed thanks to the supposed immorality and laziness of the Millennials, I’m not buying it.  I’m a fan. I’m grateful for the young people of today and I see a bright future ahead of them.

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26 comments on “Millennial Optimism

  1. Joanna says:

    I wholeheartedly agree with you on this. I really think the younger generations get a very bad press and yet there is so much yobbish behaviour amongst people much older. I also see older people than me – and I am 50 – addicted to their mobile phones and constantly checking facebook, what sort of a role model is that? I also have young friends who live life with passion, who long to see a better world and doing something about it. Much better than slightly older more apathetic and selfish generations who can’t be bothered to change their lifestyles, even if it is akin to stealing resources from their grandchildren. I think I had better stop there, but I thought you might also be interested in this article

    http://www.telegraph.co.uk/women/womens-life/11061434/Charting-the-rise-of-Generation-Yawn-20-is-the-new-40.html

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    • Bill says:

      Good article. Thanks for sharing it.

      I agree with you. I too see lots of inspiring young people living life with passion and a desire to be a part of making the world better. With plenty of good reasons to be despairing, that does not seem to characterize this generation. I expect they will follow through on that hope to improve the world.

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  2. nebraskadave says:

    Bill, Hmmmm, I’m just not seeing the same thing that you’re seeing in the young generation. What I see is a wide gap between some of the younger generation that are on track to be global culture changers and those that could give a rip. There’s not many in the middle which has always been the biggest group. The movers and shakers have always been the smaller group of the world. Unfortunately the fault doesn’t fall all on them. The parents are many times just as unconcerned about the world situation as the kids. I too believe that this young generation has the ability to change the world …. if they want to. I haven’t seen that driving force, except for a few, kick in on a grand scale yet. I can see a big difference in my kids. The older kids in their 40s jumped out of the nest and never turned back. The younger one now 30 sees no need to leave the nest. All were raised pretty much the same way. Bradley, my grandson who lived with me for five years, could definitely become a mover and shaker so it will be interesting to see how it turns out with him. Some day the world’s fate will be in their hands. I pray that you are right and they will rise to the occasion.

    Have a great millennial optimism day.

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    • Bill says:

      Young people today haven’t been dealt a very good hand, but it seems to me they’re going into the world with a confidence and cheerfulness that is promising. Not all of them of course. But far more of them than I think the older generation tends to realize. Comparing the folks I knew in my generation when we were in our 20s compared to the 20somethings that I know now, this generation seems more idealistic and more determined to make a difference in the world.

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  3. ain"t for city gals says:

    I agree…..I only have my nieces and nephews (and their friends) to judge by and it looks pretty good to me. They are all in the 23-30 year old range ….all working…almost all starting families. Half of them are professionals…a couple of stay at home moms….1 lawyer….5 nurses…on para-legal…one CPA….etc. I feel for them a bit as they are going to be the ones carrying the tax burden and that is going to be astronomical in the future….

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    • Bill says:

      Given that our generation has already spent their future earnings and left them with the tab, they’d have plenty of good reasons to be bitter and resigned. But I think they’re learning from our mistakes and ready to make the best of the situation.

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  4. I agree, Bill. I see commitment from young people all of the time. It reminds me of the 60s in a way. It’s like young people have moved away from the overwhelming consumerism of the 80s and 90s. –Curt

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    • Bill says:

      I agree with you completely. It reminds me of the 60s as well, but maybe with a more pragmatic idealism. The rejection of consumerism and materialism is what I admire the most about them. They also tend to have a more pluralistic worldview. At least that’s how I see it.

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  5. bobraxton says:

    the New York Avenue Presbyterian Church, Washington, D.C., scholars in residence will be inviting the “food” buy from Duke Divinity School (in 2015)

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  6. theoldadam says:

    I wish I shared your optimism.

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    • Bill says:

      I prefer optimism generally. Given data that could reasonably support an optimistic conclusion, I tend to give it one. Here I’m just combining my personal observations, which include getting to know a bunch of amazing and impressive young people, with what pollsters and social scientists are saying about their values. Maybe the future isn’t as bright as I imagine it, but I do hope and expect it is.

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  7. Seeking Joyful Simplicity says:

    I have seen examples of very apathetic young people with poor work ethics (I have worked with them). They want to do as little as possible and are happy to spend their free time spending their earnings, enjoying instant gratification, and being entertained.

    But I have met many more who care about the world, the environment, and are looking for holistic ways to live their lives. The ones I have met are starting farms, working for charities, and studying permaculture and herbal medicine. I admire their clarity and that they have concerns beyond their own comfort.

    I still think those that care remain the minority. But I am more optimistic than I once was.
    Thanks for sharing this post.

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    • Bill says:

      It seems to me that many in my generation came around to idealism later in life (if at all). This generation seems to have more people starting there (as seemed to be the case in the 60s, as Curt noted). I expect great things from this generation.

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  8. I believe new generations to do great things and the future looks bright but sometimes, people can be extraordinarily judgmental. We all need each other to affect positive change. No doubt, our youngsters are full of talent and have the ability. The future of youth is related to the educational opportunities, economic conditions in the world. Millions of young people working longer hours for less money to pay higher rents.
    Thanks for sharing your wonderful post!

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    • Bill says:

      I do think that many of the critics of the younger generation may not be sufficiently appreciating how difficult it is to get started in life now compared to a few decades ago. The fact that they are remaining optimistic and, for the most part, not cynical or embittered bodes well for them it seems to me.

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  9. farmerkhaiti says:

    right onto have written this post! I agree. I see all types in all ages, but I especially sense an undercurrent in this age group wanting to help make the world a better, and DOING something about it. How exciting. Why is this finger pointing/ labeling thing so common in the media, other than having some catch phrase to stir up ire?

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    • Bill says:

      It seems that older people have been complaining about younger people (and vice versa) since history began. It must just be human nature.
      As for me, I’m excited about the idealism of the young generation and I’m confident they’re going to make the world a better place.

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      • farmerkhaiti says:

        I hear ya, and I catch myself doing “old people” thought patterns sometimes, about the youngsters. Their crazy music, their tech saavyiness….but each generation, in theory, should be besting their predecessors and that’s what I see too!

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  10. associatedluke says:

    I’m a millenial (technically) and I’ve studied the generations for a while. There is a huge difference between builders (the Greatest gen) and boomers (baby boomers), but I argue that that difference (while big) is dwarfed by the distance between the millennials and the boomers.

    I think there is actually a huge difference between builders and boomers. However, there is a kind of codependence to the relationship that leaves millennials out. Builders, my grandparents, built a society (including churches) of prosperity that cater to boomers (the whole “i want my kids to have more than me” goal) and unintentionally created a generation of consumers, my parents.

    Those two generations work together because of their symbiotic relationship in an environment of prosperity. Millennials in our society will not have more than our parents on the whole and are generally fed up with the gildedness of our parents’ generation. However, there are some who haven’t noticed this and are completely brand-driven consumers who only take market responses to things. And there are those who don’t have or want a place in the system of provider/consumer. It’s a shifting group, and 9/11 + recession + technology + globalization/awareness etc. have changed the story about the world we live in.

    I understand this is reducing the generations a bit, and we millenials certainly have our issues. Each are fundamentally different, but the differences work together differently.

    At least, that’s my reading of the situation. The trick is going to be (no matter the reading) is awakening the millennials to change the world we find ourselves in and craft a new narrative. A narrative of a new food movement (thus reducing obesity and the narrative of being the most overfed, malnourished generation), less consumption of oil and more sustainability, waging peace instead of war, and ending corporate personhood. These are the greatest issues of my generation, IMHO.

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    • Seeking Joyful Simplicity says:

      I appreciate your insights and perspectives. Thank you for sharing.

      Like

    • Bill says:

      I appreciate this great comment Luke. Very insightful observation about the nature of the builder/boomer relationship, and it rings true to me.

      I think you have correctly identified the greatest issues and I believe the new narrative is being crafted. I saw more evidence of that last night at Wake Forest University where we attended a talk by Vandana Shiva. The place was packed with (mostly) young people there to hear her speak to those points. When I was that age and in college there is no way that many people would have come out to engage issues of sustainable agriculture.

      Thanks for enriching the conversation.

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      • Luke says:

        Thanks for reading! I was just talking about this very thing to a clergy friend. Funny how topics keep coming around. Must be a God-thing. Interestingly enough, that while the Millennials are far from their parents and great-grandparents, they are re-learning the arts and crafts of their great-great-grandparents. Well, here’s hoping more do.

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