My young friends

I am blessed. I know some wonderful, creative and energetic young adults. They are my antidote to the cynicism and negativism I come across every day.

When I read Facebook posts that decry the sense of entitlement that young people today express, I think about my kids, my nieces and nephews, their friends and many other young people I have met. I wonder, “Who are these young people my Facebook friends are talking about?” They must be referring to someone else’s kids and friends.

When I read letters to the editor or online comments that refer to the “good old days” when we were young and how we, unlike today’s young people, all knew how to work, how we studied so hard, how we didn’t have drug problems, and how well disciplined we were, I wonder if I grew up on the same planet. The implication of these rosy memories of a time gone by is that we, the Baby Boomer generation, were and are more patriotic, better educated, more capable, and more responsible than the young of this new generation.

If the negative comments and Facebook posts about the “Millennials” or “Generations x and Y” were true, I would have a hard time looking toward the future without being completely depressed. My experiences, however, do not fit these stereotypes.

I know young adults who have worked in the Peace Corp and have come back with an understanding of other cultures and an appreciation for the world’s diversity. I know others who have worked in the Americorps/Vista program in this country, living and working with the poor and disadvantaged in our midst. I know young adults who have worked with mission groups and inner city youth groups while living on poverty level stipends themselves. They have made choices of self-sacrifice that I have not dared to make.

Many of my young friends are parents themselves. They are good parents who love their children. They are involved in their kids education. Some of them get elected to the school board and work within the system. Others choose to homeschool their children and devote the equivalence of a full-time job to teaching. These young parents are concerned about the food their little ones are eating. They avoid the high sugar, high carbohydrate diets that are so convenient and so unhealthy. Some grow gardens, make their own baby food, raise their own chickens and shop regularly at the farmers’ market. They take the time to cook and make sure their kids are running and jumping and playing.

Some of my young friends are politically active. They may not be holding sit-ins and carrying signs outside political conventions, but they are adept at circulating electronic petitions, sharing information and digging out the inconsistencies of the political demagogs of my generation who are still running things. They know how to use the technological tools available and they use them. They are concerned about the environment and fairness in the economic system.

I have met young people called to serve in the Christian church as pastors and missionaries. I know others who question religion and decline to be part of the church of their parents. They have not gone to church because that’s what they have always done nor have others rejected religion because they are reacting to what they have always done. Both groups have made their decisions through careful thought and discernment.

Many of my friends have tattoos, body piercing, strange haircuts and wear outlandish clothing. Some, on the other hand, wear more conservative garb than I do and have haircuts which look more like the crew cuts of my parents’ generation than the long hair of my youth.

Of course, just as all Baby Boomers were not hippies, nor are all of us patriotic, good citizens or regular-church-going Christians, this generation is not all one thing or another. Certainly there are individuals and whole groups within the definition of “Millennial” that live quite differently from that of my young friends. There are young people who never leave home and spend their time playing computer games instead of earning a living. There are parents who let their kids run wild and seem to have no interest in participating in the political system. Some seem to have missed out on learning about history and civics and as a result are easily influenced by political advertisements, sound bites and easy one-liners.

Likewise, some of my generation are no more involved, responsible, or knowledgeable than some of the current generation of young people. It is my older friends who are posting Facebook messages about how perfect life was 50 years ago and sharing glib one-liners about politics and government which reduce complex issues to feel-good sound bites. We are the ones reminiscing about how great life was in the past. Apparently we’ve forgotten how our generation dressed in the 70’s, how we dropped out and got high, how we partied in the back forty and drank too much. We’ve forgotten that we questioned our parents’ religion, their politics and their economics. We’ve forgotten how we rebelled and how we made mistakes.

Maybe I’m just blessed to know the best of the Millennials. I’m glad I know them. These young people give me hope for the future. I refuse to share any Facebook posts to the contrary.

Copyright © 2012 Janet Jacobson and Sustaining the Northern Plains