Older generations try to understand youth with varying degrees of success. I think it has to do with our level of interaction with youth and/or our attitude. The two are closely related. It is hard to understand people with whom one has limited or no deep and meaningful interaction. This lack of interaction can lead to stereotyping, which is often negative.
It’s hard to have a positive image of young people when you simply go by news reports and the comments of people who see them only through their own lenses and their own desires. These are often people who do not understand young people on young people’s own terms.
Of course I’m biased. I’ve worked with young people, it seems like forever. I see them as people with tremendous strengths and gifts that the church and the world need, now. I’m not uncritical and naive. They have some weaknesses as we all do. And, they are in the process of becoming in a much sharper way than the rest of us.However, all in all, they are delightful and eager to please and make a difference, especially this generation of youth, often referred to as the Millenials.
The Millennial generation is one about which much has been spoken and written, both positive and negative. It’s a perspective issue. William Strauss and Neil Howe describe them as “optimists” (Strauss and Howe 2206, 41), citing research in which Millennials describe themselves. I would have to agree. They see possibilities and where many of us pull back, they plunge forward with amazing effectiveness. Just recently, Rachel Wheeler’s story made the news. At 12 years old she has already built 27 homes in Haiti. See the Huffington Post. I think also of the youTheology students and alumni who are volunteering at different places and doing amazing things with their lives. Optimism is good when it is purposeful.
Another way of looking at Millennials, young people, is seeing them as idealistic. Ruben Navarrette seems skeptical of this idealism that seeks to find solutions to problem in his piece, “Entitled to Idealism.” But then, the conversation he reported put a whole different spin on the “sense of entitlement” young people are supposed to have. It’s quite a shift – negative to positive.For me I still see it more as optimism. There is a connotation to idealism that it’s difficult to beat. For some, it could be positive, for others negative.
Whether you think of it as optimism or idealism, young people are dreaming dreams and taking concrete actions to make the world a better place. The questions for us are:
- What example are we setting in this regard?
- How are we nurturing the dreams and the desires?
- How are we making space for these stories?
- How are we helping them to connect these with God’s love, reign and mission?
Loving God, Loving Neighbor
Developing Faithful Leaders for a Diverse Church and World Now and in the Future