Saturday, February 06, 2016

Diamonds in the Rough at a Turning Point

I ran across this the other day while opening an article on the Forbes magazine site:

Thought of the Day: "For millennials, to be inspired is to become creative, innovative and energized." - Tori Utley

Utley is a Forbes columnist who specializes in talking about Millennials, the students I have taught for the past decade and a half. Her comment has prompted me to think. I always consider that a gift.

Enormous, As Yet Largely Untapped Potential

Over the years I have had to observe Millennials, I have come to believe that they hold the greatest potential of any generation thus far, both for good and for ill. As the vanguard of Generation Y winds down, already beginning to feel their successors in  Generation Z breathing down their necks, intentionally thinking about inspiration, creativity, innovation and what energizes those qualities among Millennials has never been more urgent.

Millennials have had access to a potentially wider perspective of the world than any preceding generation. They are developing technological capacities that their predecessors would have given their eye teeth to have been able to assume as a given in their daily lives. And they arrived at the end of long, bitter culture clashes that have rendered many of the prejudices of the past - once seen as common wisdom - no longer comprehensible. In many ways, they are the beneficiaries of fortunate births, indeed.

It is this enormous potential that I and so many others so readily see that has prompted me to continue to call, encourage, challenge and cajole the Millennial students I have taught to live into their enormous potential at every opportunity. I absolutely want them to be inspired, to become creative, innovative and energized. I greatly desire to see their enormous potential realized. Our world needs them to become all that they can be.

But this will not simply happen by chance. Like every generation preceding them, Millennials come of age as diamonds in the rough. They can live into their potential but only through refinement and polishing.

The interests currently driving the socio-cultural context in which this generation’s potential is being developed would readily squander it for the imperatives of the wealthy and powerful just as it did with the potential of its predecessors. Like the large cohort of Boomers before them, the Millennials have the privilege of creating a new world based in the new values they hold and the new vision they can see if they are willing to do the hard work to get there.

What is clear to them and to many of us who would mentor them is that it is precisely a new world that is needed. But like the Boomers before them, the Millennials will face a wide array of sirens hoping to deflect them from the very changes they have the opportunity to make.

Bear in mind, Boomers did not start out as Yuppies.

The Costs of Becoming Fully Human

To live into their enormous potential which is largely yet untapped will require assuming the active duties of citizenship, not buying into the alluring passivity and resulting mediocrity of mere consumerism. Choosing to opt out of politics because it is messy, mean-spirited and dominated by moneyed interests may feel good - even self-righteous -  but it is ultimately a cop out which allows the very status quo Millennials rightfully despise to continue directing our society unabated.

Inspired creativity will mean coming up with one’s own ideas and innovations, not simply waiting to choose between the limited options offered by consumerist marketers or merely recycling the cultural expressions of preceding generations. John Mayer was wrong. Simply “Waitin’ for the world to change” will not be enough. It was Gandhi who got this right: “Be the change you wish to see in the world.” He recognized that personal and social transformation must go hand in hand.

For Millennials to live into their potential will require them to intentionally engage the world outside socially mediated tribes, investing time and energies to be fully and physically present with others, particularly those who are not like themselves. It will mean developing relationships that are deeper than superficial “likes” and the endless configurations of smiley faces on social media which allow one to keep a safe personal distance while never getting one’s hands dirty with the messiness of actually engaging the other. Indeed, for many it will mean having to actually develop in-person interactional skills that for many have become stunted by lack of use.  

To live into their hype will mean Millennials must be willing to endure the pain of suffering both in their own immediate lives and the larger world around them. That, in turn, means not presuming constant comfort is a birthright, one of the many siren songs of a consumerist culture. It will mean being willing to delay gratification and continuing to toil at work which can only be accomplished over the long term, remembering that most things worth achieving do not come without a wait and a struggle.

Becoming fully human will mean intentionally and regularly taking the time to actually be alone with oneself in silence, an intentionality that is required to adequately reflect upon life in an increasingly complex techno-society. It will mean turning off the distractions that are inevitably and relentlessly ready to impose themselves upon our lives and dash off with our attention and imaginations.  For most, that will mean unlearning an awful lot of unconscious behaviors and the values which inform them.

It will mean developing the capacity for the critical reflection required for distinguishing between rudimentary forms of knowing - data, information, knowledge – and more developed forms of knowing - understanding and wisdom - recognizing the former as mere means to the latter. And it will mean rejecting the temptation to see the advice of elders forged in years of experience as valueless, an exercise in unrecognized generational hubris and a loss of potentially insightful counsel that every culture and every thoughtful human being needs to develop their full potential.

We Boomers had to learn the hard way that not trusting anyone over 30 was a losing proposition. And trust me, you, too, will be 30 one day. Indeed, some of you already are.

Becoming What Their Marketing Says About Them

I continue to believe in the Millennials. They have the power to change our world, actors who have come onto the world stage at a critical point in its history. And they face a wide range of challenges from climate change to financial disparities to electoral dysfunction unprecedented in our history. We need them to become all they can be for their own sakes as well as ours.

Like the author of this quote, I greatly desire to see Millennials become inspired, creative, innovative and energized. I hold out major hope that they will do so and I believe we are beginning to see some of that potential realized already. The questions I continue to ponder is how that change will occur and what kind of world it will usher in.

I wish this cohort of bright young potential stars well in actually becoming all that their marketing is saying about them. And, as always, I continue to pledge my willingness to assist them in that process in any way I can. As the Motel 6 ads say, I’ll leave the light on for you.

Harry Scott Coverston
Orlando, Florida

If the unexamined life is not worth living, surely an unexamined belief system, be it religious or political, is not worth holding.

Most things worth considering do not come in sound bites.

For what does G-d require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your G-d? (Micah 6:8, Hebrew Scriptures)