The age group between 18 and 34 has been called the “millennials.” This is the group that is probably not reading either this article or any newspaper. This is the generation that relates to the world from their hand-held devices.
The millennials have been tagged by sociologists as the most self-absorbed generation on record. Selfies are their trademark and individualism is their brand. But then again I suppose that narcissism and self-absorption is a condition that afflicts human beings of any age.
Millennials have supposedly distanced themselves from most large institutions including politics and religion. I would assume this is partly due to disappointment with these institutions. In practical terms this means that a significant number of those under 30 do not vote in elections or attend church. This age group appears particularly interested in technology. Steve Jobs may have been the high priest of this generation.
Is there some common ground to be found between the millennials and those of us who have come before them? Are there aspirations that define the humanity of us all and call all of us to be the best we can be? I would suggest that there at least two: Relating to those other than ourselves and ethical behavior.
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First, relating to others. Surprisingly, this is a particular challenge with present day technology. Being so engrossed in my own hand-held device that I am either unwilling or unable to relate to the world outside of my palm. This is an issue at the dinner table and a lot of other places: Put down your phone and talk to the people around you. Stop texting and pay attention to other drivers. Social media can be a form of navel gazing or a genuine way of staying in touch with others.
The ultimate “Other.” God, is the mystery who created us and who calls us to love him with our whole heart and our neighbors as ourselves. This is not only the great commandment but it is the fulfillment of our humanity. For this we were created and lacking this guiding principle in our lives we remain immature and underdeveloped as persons at whatever age. There are certainly many ways of relating to the Other. Organized religion is one of them. Church, synagogue and mosque unite people and enable them both in their search for the Other and sensitivity to other persons.
Secondly, ethical behavior defines our humanity. Morality means knowing the difference between right and wrong; ethical behavior means I apply those moral principles to a particular situation and asking the question: Is my action going to hurt or help other people in this case? Being ethical is the difference between being either destructive or helpful to the human condition.
Both religion and politics, as imperfect as they may be, are important to the common good of humanity. Perhaps millennials have yet to buy into this. Perhaps we of earlier generations need to give them the example and reason to do so.
The Rev. Fred Nijem is pastor at Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Warner Robins.