BLOGGERRaised outside of Chicago, Emily Atkinson is a junior at Smith College in Northampton, Massachusetts, where she is pursuing a double major in Anthropology and English Literature. Her studies of...
Where do young people come down on questions of faith, values, and public life? How do they relate their values to public policy issues including education, economic inequality, and the environment? These questions, critically important for the 2012 election, are at the center of a campus conversation being organized by the Berkley Center and Georgetown University. This blog features an ongoing conversation about these issues between students selected as Millennial Values Fellows through a national competition. You can read and comment on their blogs here.
To learn more about the project, visit the Campus Conversation on Values page.
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AT THE CENTER
RELATED RESOURCES ON SOCIAL JUSTICE
Emily Atkinson (Smith) on Millennials, Values, and America's Future
April 17, 2012
What we’ve seen and keep seeing are the dangers of extremism. Extremists, the killers and maimers and torturers in the name of a noble end, are the most dangerous of all because they believe unshakeably that they’re right. The tragedy of terrorism is that it is uncomplicated; it requires a worldview defined by immutable opposites rather than connections.
Our generation is extremely complicated. We see the shades of grey in opinions and in what passes for truth every time we skim through what our friends have shared on Facebook. We live every moment in a clatter of voices with little guide to which speak the truth. We change our minds-- we get new information every minute. We’re a little suspicious, and sometimes specifics elude us.
This is, I think, why Occupy Wall Street can be so inchoate in terms of its goals and yet possesses a particular ethos, as do we. We were taught in preschool that everyone is special and that sharing is caring: this gives us an ethic that encompasses both the right to individual choice and the obligation to help one another, which makes us as a group more concerned about social justice than legislating social mores.
I’ve noticed on the Internet a solidarity among people our age. Used to starting conversations with total strangers online, we can be constantly ready to reach out and connect. There is a sense that we’re in this together, rather than that we’re in competition for scarce jobs. The question now is whether we’re ready to risk taking a stand, getting down to specifics, and making a future in which we want to live; the problem will be getting us all to merge something like a coherent voice.
Abigail Clauhs (Boston University) comments on Emily Atkinson April 18, 2012
Emily, your examination of our generation's psyche—the way we use humor as a coping mechanism, our encounters with extremism, our lives played out in a virtual (and therefore questionably "real") world, and so on—is extremely insightful. I notice that you point out the instability of the internet world ("people may not be who they say they are"), yet you also say that this world allows us to find solidarity. Brian questions whether this building of solidarity discounts the need for solitude, but I can't help but wonder if it's the opposite case. Do the growing community and communication online actually isolate people as their interactions become increasingly virtual and less in-person? Can we really build solidarity if we don't translate our voices online into actual action?
Brian Goldman (University of Pennsylvania) comments on Emily Atkinson April 18, 2012
Emily, I think that this post is a nuanced dissection of the inherent tensions within our generation and I really enjoyed it. I can’t say I disagree with you in terms of what both drives and plagues our generation. I thought most interesting was your assertion that perhaps our generation can, at this point, be wholly defined by “solidarity;” an idea that runs parallel to the concept of social networks and connectivity. I wonder, however, if our generation lacks a certain solitude that was apparent in prior generations (the so-called ‘Greatest Generation’ being the one the immediately comes to mind). Solitude seems to have a leper-like connotation amongst our generation, and I wonder whether solidarity—and intertwined social network webs—have much to do with this. I remember reading a great speech made at West Point graduation where the vision of “solitude and leadership” was explored. Perhaps part of the tensions in our generation that you recognize have to do with the idea that we are too much aligned with solidarity and too little willing to recognize the benefits of solitude and introspection.