BLOGGERA sophomore majoring in Political Science at Johns Hopkins University, Talene Bilazarian hails from Andover, Massachusetts. The mix of her conservative upbringing and her exposure to liberal...
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: SOCIAL JUSTICE
Talene Bilazarian (Johns Hopkins) on Millennials, Values, and America's Future
April 17, 2012
We keep coming back to something loosely called “quality of life,” but the term barely does justice to the millennial’s life quest. Our “good life” centers on a different, barely identifiable commodity. It goes by many names, often “meaning” or “passion” sometimes “purpose” and “social justice”; Gandhi’s “be the change” has become something of a Millennial brand essence.
It’s that search for significance which motivates some of the most counter-intuitive millennial behavior. Our parents watch in confusion as we compete for unpaid internships and spend our precious disposable income on fair trade coffee or TOMS shoes (for every pair you buy, the company donates shoes to a needy child). Only our generation would sacrifice a summer salary to realize career passions and let social justice dictate how we shop.
But many are not so quickly wooed by do-gooder trends and a world-changer spirit. Timothy’s blog questioned “armchair activism” and its ability “to bridge the gap between awareness and action.” Spencer characterized our generation’s “lazy groupthink” and inability to provide “more than lip service to good causes.” Millennials have often rightfully been called slacktivists for their lame and ineffectual attempts at activism. It seems that our generation is far more determined to appear global citizens than participate in the hard or meaningful work required to foster social change. This renders millennial activism a rather selfish aspect of the teenage social code as opposed to a sincere attempt to address human rights or international development.
Though we can criticize the limitations of slacktivism, an evaluation which focuses too intently on “results” misses a subtle, but extraordinary cultural shift. By this I mean, being a humanitarian--or at least looking like one—just got really cool…
Even if we don’t tackle global warming or social inequalities, the millennial attitude is breaking from the past by ascribing personal significance to global issues. The trends that consume us--Ethos water, the Free People store, Prius cars, Livestrong bands--demonstrate global consciousness gone vogue. Even if the international impact is modest, this shift in style has revolutionized consumer choice and American culture by extension. It may be that a generation of gung-ho world-changers are more impactful in shaping the cultural norms of the first world than eradicating poverty in the third. But this is no small feat.
The fact is millennials don’t idolize ownership the way our parents did. That Christmas-card image—family, home, comfort and security—no longer signifies success. We are aiming for an alternative, good life. The dreams we imagine for our fuzzy futures, center on doing work we love that will impact the world around us in extraordinary ways.
Jason Rezepka, VP of MTV’s public affairs explains, ”There’s a growing hunger, particularly from Millennials entering the workforce, to engage in meaningful work that doesn’t just make old, rich, white guys richer.” According to David Maddocks, whose consultancy firm has helped Elle Macpherson, Converse, and Nike market to millennials: “Boomers were about abundance, whereas this generation is about having enough.”
We are a generation which inherited the most extraordinary financial and technological privileges in history. We were raised by parents who brought devotion to new extremes and watched the world flatten before our very eyes. It makes sense that we think globally and aspire to look beyond ourselves as we come of age.
But many are coming to reconsider the intensity of their activism and the price of passion. A blog from the Harvard Business Review splashed across Twitter and Facebook asking: “To Find Happiness, Forget About Passion.” Can we satisfy an intense demand for meaning and purpose when the demands of “real life” catch up? We roll our eyes now at the suburban life, assured that we are too clever to fall into any Death of a Salesman trap. There has to be a shortcut to a comfortable life that doesn’t require living on a cul de sac and turning into our parents. You see, we think we can live without mowing lawns, safe neighborhoods, good schools or a 401(k).
But our assuredness of what we won’t need to face the future is a product of our youth and inexperience. Extraordinary opportunity comes at a cost. If we aim to provide our children with the privileges and security our parents so generously offered us, we will have some sacrificing to do.
One thing is certain, that good life question really is a stumper…
Brian Goldman (University of Pennsylvania) comments on Talene Bilazarian April 18, 2012
Talene, you touch on a lot of the big issues facing our generation, and seem to take a more even-handed stance on “armchair activism,” or “slacktivism.” I think you pose some good arguments in favor of the activism that Spencer and Timothy derided in their posts; the change in our generation’s mindset is a tangible difference that seems to be partly derived from the “flat,” globally-driven, interconnected world that we live in. Consumer-driven change is not necessarily the strongest sort of activism, but it isn’t the weakest, either.
Most interesting were your statements towards the end, especially with regards to whether our generation’s world culture, social justice ethos will persevere when “real life” issues crop up sooner or later. I wonder this a lot myself. In short, will the millennial generation be co-opted into the society that was bequeathed to us, or will we create a society in our vision and then pass that unto our children? Only time will tell, but I do think there is something to be said for all of the issues our society (and the world) face. Can we afford to be co-opted by a previous culture that, while affording us many opportunities as you note, also left us with crumbling infrastructure, a public school system far behind other countries, a warmer planet and a national balance sheet that would put any private business out-of-business? I don’t think we can, which is hopefully why we will be able to make truly impactful and important change in both America and the world; can we run the risk of not doing so?
Daniel Chen (UC Berkeley) comments Talene Bilazarian April 18, 2012
Like you and Brian, I wonder if we will continue to hold our values as society and life naturally put more pressure for us to move towards more pragmatic lifestyles and careers. Like you, my “parents watch in confusion as we compete for unpaid internships,” and honestly, I do myself as well (out of my four college internships, only one was paid!). In this respect, as you said, “If we aim to provide our children with the privileges and security our parents so generously offered us, we will have some sacrificing to do.” Does this mean that many of us will have to, at some time or another, put away our childhood aspirations and move toward that 9-5 desk job that we have all grown to fear? I think I’m already on that track...