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Rea Nolan Martin Headshot

Gen Y: A Mother's View

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MILLENIALS
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Yes, I am weighing in on that famously lazy, self-centered, undisciplined and financially dependent generation, Gen Y, also known as Millennials. Did I mention emotionally dependent? What about distracted? Unfocused? Selfish? Entitled? I'm sure there's more that I'm forgetting. Boomers and Gen Xers have complained that Millennials are too coddled, too protected and too indulged to make a positive impact on the world. No grit, no perseverance. After all, weren't they taught to expect applause for waking up in the morning? Trophies for brushing their teeth? Not to mention their disregard for some of our most cherished institutions, such as organized religion. Have I covered everything? OK, good. I just want the mudslinging to be well-represented before I disavow it.

Of course there are some Millennials for whom the above complaints actually apply, but that's true of every generation, including mine. Fellow baby boomers, remember that we were also much maligned as lazy and overindulged. Everything's relative. On the face of it, boomers were fearless, and nothing is more feared than that. Boomers tossed convention aside in favor of a brave new world -- a world where every envelope was pushed and every closet door unlocked, though not fully opened. We were feared because we eschewed authority, although time has proven us justified. After all, genuine authority is earned, not seized -- a concept completely foreign to the generations before ours. Much of the authority Boomers experienced in youth was forceful and unforgiving. Our parents and grandparents derived from a black and white morality. Boomers introduced shades of gray. Millennials see explosions of light, color, invention and social connection the likes of which no previous generation has ever known.

I am the proud mother of two Millennials, the aunt of 19 and friend and mentor to many more. The Millennials I know may be concerned about their financial placement in the world, but they are not self-centered. Like every generation before them, their challenges are unique, as are their characteristics and abilities. They are empowered to change things, as many are doing -- witness the vast number of entrepreneurial start-ups among twenty-somethings. There is no loss of creativity and confidence in this reportedly unmotivated group. They are in debt, it's true, but who isn't? They are in debt largely due to their unprecedented level of education. So they are not lazy. And in spite of the burden of that massive educational debt, they continue to compete fiercely for jobs in fields such as medicine, even though this field promises far lower income than it did in the past. To be successful, a Millennial doctor has to view his/her medical career more as a vocation than the lucrative, socially influential career path it previously guaranteed. They seek it anyway. Where's the self-centeredness in that?

As a proud mother and aunt, I have supported more fundraisers in my family group than I can count. Every single one of these young men and women and their many friends has diligently spent so-called leisure hours benefiting the less privileged. This is not a local phenomenon; it's occurring in U.S. communities everywhere. From the grueling Wounded Warrior challenge, to the Polar Bear Plunge, to imaginative marathons, to mustaches and beards for Movember and shaved heads for St. Baldrick's, it's a revolution of compassion. Millennials understand and integrate service into their so-called indulgent lives.

As far as structured religion goes, the jury is out. No one really knows what will happen a decade or so from now when Gen Y's embrace family life. If we're being honest, many a Boomer did not see the inside of a church from the day they left home to the day they were married and/or baptized their first child. But let's say Millennials really do abandon the idea of church as we know it. Let's say exposure to all the grand scale abuses and prejudices of church authority permanently soured Millennials. Are they any less spiritual? No. Do they seek less enlightenment? No. The same existential questions plague them that plagued us. Who are we? Where do we come from? Where are we going? Like aliens dropped in a foreign land, humans have sought these answers from the beginning of time. Some are compelled to find answers from a very young age, while others fend off spiritual crises until their more vulnerable later years. But do we think an entire generation won't seek? Won't find? Or are we just afraid of the conclusions they'll draw because they might be derived differently than ours?

Some would argue that Millennials seek truth as much as any generation, maybe more. I agree. I have watched many of them seek it firsthand, if not through conventional religion, then directly from spiritual masters of the past and present, filtered through the lens of their own truth and experience. How it will all end up, nobody knows, including them. A resurgence of faith through radical reform of today's half-dead religions may yet occur. Anything is possible -- look at Pope Francis. But whether it does or not, Gen Y abounds with inherent goodness. It is a profoundly generous generation that loves each other. This is a generation more than any other that refuses to judge their fellow humans on a superficial scale. Their rules might be more relaxed than ours, it's true, and that tends to make older generations nervous. What will they do?! But the rules of Millennials are relaxed in favor of love and inclusion, not prejudice and hate. So there is less to fear. Of course the true test remains -- whether they will adequately nourish these gifts and opportunities, or not.

For me, this generation holds more hope than any previous generation I could name, including my own. Within them is an authentic power born of integrity that will hopefully preclude the use of force, or at least limit it. Within Gen Y is the seed of the holy spiritual gifts we have failed to adequately develop in previous generations. Or maybe it's just evolution. They are kind, charitable, and protective of human rights. They practice what we preached. Based on what I have witnessed so far, I look to the future with great confidence knowing our world has never been in better hands.