Moving from “them” and “me” to “we”: Being Relational in the Millennial generation

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Millennials get a bad rap. Labelling them the “me” generation, the stereotype is that millenials are selfish, obsessed with material possessions, and unwilling to expend attention on something that lasts longer than a snapchat. The anti-millennial fire was stoked recently by a poll sponsored by the Atlantic Magazine and the Aspen Institute, which found empirically that only 22% of millennials found helping others to be a top priority, while 46% said that money was crucial to the attainment of the American Dream and 32% said owning luxury items was necessary to achieve the same goal. Additionally, 31% believed the American Dream is alive and well, in comparison to the 17% of people between the ages of 51 and 64.
 
Perhaps most worrying to us at Orans is that the picture of millennials painted by these findings is not a very relational one. It shows that generosity, among millennials, is not promoted or valued. This means that, as millennials advance in their careers and life, they don’t expect to do anything beyond the bare minimum in giving of ourselves. They may make the occasional donation to charity, but generally will be too preoccupied with making sure that they have enough to attain and continue the lavish lifestyle that they see as being synonymous with the American Dream. Giving in the first instance, before it is clear there will be anything and without asking for anything in return, would seem unprovoked, or perhaps it would not even seem to be an option.
 
Millennials aren’t wary of giving simply because they are selfish, but often because they are playing into a culture that is validated by consumerism and invalidated only by experience and mindfulness. In lieu of having experience to reset ideological priorities, it is even more important for millennials to understand and practice being relational in order to combat the power of these beliefs, to look harder and remain grounded about what marks self-worth and success.
 
Adding to the anti-relational maelstrom, however, are articles like the one that CNN posted, entitled “5 reasons Millennials aren’t like the rest of us.” Though the article has some interesting findings, they are overshadowed by the dominant posture taken by the authors in the title. Maybe millennials aren’t like “the rest of us,” whoever “the rest of us” are. Maybe not. By looking harder at the issue, it is relatively easy to come to understand the millennial generation a little bit better, but it requires being open to the way that generation views the world. It is equally important to realize that not all millennials are plagued with the “me”-ness that this article suggests. Relational reciprocity comes into play here once again; if you want millennials to be able to connect to other generations, you have to make an attempt to understand them before dismissing the generation as being some abnormal, hopeless entity. By looking harder at our own perspectives and encouraging millennials to do the same, we can all inch closer towards understanding and being relational as we build bridges between generations.

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