It seems to me that everything wants to be categorized and at the same time resists categorization with all its might. If this is the truth, there is no better demonstration of this dichotomous, dialectical, paradoxical condition than in the arrival of the Millennial generation.
Our Millenial Generation
It’s true, we have been here for a while. Our childhood was spent playing Pokemon and watching Boy Meets World, which faded all-too-perfectly into unsurprising teenage angst. Now we are adults, or more specifically, we are emerging adults. This concept describes the handing-off of one’s life from the responsibility of the parents, the teachers, the community leaders into the shaking hands of the millennial. These are the moments we finish college when it hits us that we are the same age as when our parents got married, that we have to pay for things like health insurance and phone bills. In addition to the nitty-gritties of life like buying toothpaste and 401(K)’s, we also have a distinct emotional coming-of-age story that is completely unique from generations past. The other stuff is important and we have to spend time learning it and doing it, but the emotional overtures that come without warning or mercy are what makes the Millennial generation something of a rare bird.
There is no doubt that threads of humanity run inter-generationally. In fact, most of what we experience as a generation is nothing new as far as content is concerned; the difference is in form. The desire for independence is nothing new. The environment in which it is felt and exercised, however, is always changing. And it is this, the habitat of the Millennial generation, that is worth a second look. It would be naive, though, to think that content and form are independent entities that come together only at the precise moment of experience. That’s not how it works. The particular form that is selected affects the content it purveys. The content is altered as it is expressed. For example, think about teenage angst. In the wartime 70s, we found ourselves protesting and organizing alternative political schemes. Today, teenage angst is a matter of social media hermits and a sometimes ambitious wielding of technology in the name of anti-authority. We don’t have to physically gather today as we did back then. When something really grinds our gears we simply post, share, and repeat.
This emotional reality is different than generations before, not because it didn’t exist then, but because we Millennials have the space to express our emotions and a learned entitlement to do so without any consequences. If you feel the deep pangs of a need for intimacy, this is nothing new. Only now, there is space to feel it, to speak it, to live in it. This hasn’t always been the case and will take some getting used to. The Christian community has always hoped for a space like this, in order to inject the truth of God’s revelation into the lives of believers and non-believers alike. Well, here it is. The door is open and the space is for the taking.
So, the questions are: What is the particular context that Millennials have inherited and how are we currently amending it for ourselves? What are its virtues and vices? How can we look at it, engage with it, and support it?
Answers?. . . Still to come. What is clear, though, is the need for a move toward sincere self-documentation. In order to understand who’s inheriting the world, we need to express ourselves in meaningful ways. We should write. We should paint. We should talk. And then stop talking and listen. The second part of the process, the response, requires that we stop expressing ourselves and take in the criticisms, the affirmation, the questions of others. This is essential. Listening is hard, but it is indispensable to the Millennial project.
So, if you are a Millennial: Express yourself, rinse, repeat, THEN watch and listen to what happens in response
And if you aren’t: Pay attention to Millennials in your life, take note of what they’re doing and why they’re doing it, THEN tell them what you think.
Written by David Ballard