Tag Archives: Society

Making the Millennial Dream

I just finished reading a fascinating article on CNN this morning, about the jobs market as it relates to millennials. The writer, Ruben Navarrette, Jr., suggests that millennials like myself simply aren’t cut out for the rigors of modern work, at least not as most of us are now. He writes that, “In a competitive global economy, which is not interested in catering to anyone’s sense of self-worth, these young people may learn the hard way that their needs and expectations don’t match reality and that jobs are hard to come by.” Tough outlook, isn’t it?

Some may be unfamiliar with the term “millennial” as it’s used here. Millennials are, broadly speaking, a group of people from about age 18 to age 30, the sons and daughters of baby boomers and Gen Xers. Millennials have been raised during an incredible technological boom, a time during which the internet, cell phones, social networking, and an endless supply of other technical marvels have redefined the way life is lived, in first- and third-world countries alike. They tend to be very well-educated, and have an incredible sense of self-esteem and self-worth. They’re also the age group I’m a part of.

Navarrette is blunt and unapologetic in his assessment of millennials. But what he seems to see as negative traits in this up-and-coming generation might be seen instead as assets in building a brighter future.

RN (Ruben Navarrette; one can only type “Navarrette” so many times before one’s fingers fall off) cites millennials’ self-confidence as a drawback in terms of their future success. His argument is that this confidence leads young people to be too optimistic about their job prospects, and ultimately causes them to turn down “perfectly good” opportunities when they come along. Millennials, he says, expect too much and are unwilling to accept too little when job-hunting. There’s some truth to this: Many people around my age have pretty lofty goals and expectations for their lives, especially when it comes to work, which often makes them/us less eager to take less-than-desirable jobs if they’re not connected to those goals. RN puts it this way: “Many millennials have been known to hold out for the perfect job at the perfect company with the perfect salary and a clear path to the vice presidency, even if it means crashing with mom and dad well into their 20s.”

But is this self-confidence really a bad thing? Sure, it can lead young people to be unrealistic about employment. But at the same time, the many huge problems we face in the modern world aren’t going to be solved by timidity. Many millennials (myself among them) bring this confidence into their vision for the future, and aren’t afraid to have big dreams that match their admittedly large opinions of their own abilities. But this should hardly be called a disadvantage! We’re now in a day and age in which great ideas and innovations can go far, no longer restricted by borders, distance, or language, so it follows that as many people as possible should be creating and voicing great new ideas. Facebook wasn’t started by a baby boomer, after all!

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The Peoples’ News

The news industry is one that is undergoing a constant evolution. From word of mouth to the printed press, and on to radio, televised, and digital media, the art of spreading the word has changed enormously throughout its lifetime.

Nowadays, another dimension of news has come to the fore: The social dimension.

Most Americans, and indeed most people with access to news coverage all around the world, are most familiar with a type of news reporting that is presented in a kind of lecture-oriented format. Stories, at least those sent to press by major news organizations, are usually very factual and objective, and tend to follow a common pattern. Now, these are good things to have in such a crucial and informative media source, don’t get me wrong. But if you look at the broader, grander scale of the news industry, this kind of media is something of an anomaly.

Back in the 19th century, and even well before, news was spread by gossip, word on the street, and pamphleteering. One could make a case, as Tom Standage, business editor at the Economist does, that early American revolutionaries like Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Paine were essentially low-tech bloggers, using pamphlets and propagandistic methods to spread the news. Before such technology as the radio or television emerged (making competitive news creation prohibitively expensive for most), news was communicated largely by coffee shop conversations and pamphlets handed out on the street. News then was much more partisan and was fully conscious of this fact.

Surprisingly enough, technological advancement seems to be bringing the news back to this kind of media, and away from what 19th century press developed into. In other words, moving forward in tech is bringing us back in time.

That’s not to say that this is a bad thing! As the internet becomes more and more pervasive, and more and more people begin using it to discuss and spread ideas (as I’m doing now), the news will gradually be taken out of the hands of the few and become produced by the many. Already, sites like Twitter and Facebook (both of which can be linked to this article at the bottom of the page) allow people of all kinds to share events and discussions with friends. In fact, the news of the death of Osama bin Laden was first publicized accidentally by a Pakistani man tweeting about the events unfolding near his home.

This is very reminiscent of those 19th century times when pamphlets and common people were the main vehicle by which news traveled. Things are also becoming more partisan, as they were then. As news becomes more dominated by and dependent on the power of the internet, people are more able to weigh in and voice their opinions about stories of all kinds. In fact, social networks like Facebook allow people to almost create news stories, forcing the larger media world to pick up the story. If enough people take up a cause online, the industry has no choice but to notice.

All of these things lead me to one simple conclusion: The until-recently monopolistic news industry is quickly and inexorably shifting to a social one, and it’s up to the industry to jump on this bandwagon or be run over by it. The potential for an amazing new era of news is enormous. Which side will they end up on?

For more on this subject, and to see some of the writing that inspired and informed this post, check out this Economist discussion.

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Seeking the Spiritual: The Century of Common People (Part 2)

Will we finally let go of our differences? (Source: scu.edu)

This is the second part of an earlier post, which you can find here. If you’re a bit lost, give my earlier post a read!

Sadly, we’re nowhere near as far toward this as we could be, or should be, and I must admit there’s a long way to go. But progress is being made, and in no small way! A great example of this is in the steady advancement of gay rights over the past years. Public opinion is moving toward favoring marriage equality, DADT has been repealed (nominally at least), 6 states allow gay marriage, and Maryland will soon join them. To add to this, the Department of Justice is no longer upholding DOMA, a strong step that shows that government is moving with the popular opinion. The long run for marriage equality is looking even brighter, as more than half of voters under the age of 30 (55%, to be exact) approve of same-sex marriage, and the media generally treats it as both normal and acceptable.

Of course, this is by no means the only place we’re moving forward! Huge strides are being made across religious, social, cultural, and linguistic barriers, as people all around the world are connecting in new and incredible ways. Even just in the short time I’ve been writing this blog, I’ve had the opportunity to meet many new and amazing people, and talk with them about some of the most important things in life, and we’ve been able to do this across entire oceans!

This new century brings incredible new potentials with it, unlike anything in centuries past. Just as the 20th century brought about amazing new developments and turning points in our collective history, the 21st century is bringing a new kind of change, one that brings understanding and peace, instead of division and strife.

Maybe this is just the optimistic musing of a young mind, but as I mentioned above, this seems to me to be happening in a variety of very real and tangible ways! I’m finding more and more people who are willing to reach out and understand others, no matter what their differences are. People seem to be slowly becoming more willing to accommodate the different ideas of others, without feeling the need to be right. In schools, more children are being taught the value of acceptance and tolerance, instead of the value of winning an argument. There seems to be a greater and greater need and desire for interfaith dialogue, and prominent religious leaders (Feisal Abdul Rauf, Desmond Tutu, Thich Nhat Hanh, the Dalai Lama, and many others) are standing up to try and bring greater peace and unity between religious traditions, without sacrificing diversity.

As I said, there is still a lot of work to be done here, but a lot of progress is being made as well. Though we’re only a tenth of the way through it, I can see this century being a bright one, a time when people will slowly but surely realize that all of our differences, all of our outward appearances and supposed differences can be left at the wayside. This 21st century will be, I’m sure, one of Common People.

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Seeking the Spiritual: The Century of Common People (Part 1)

I watched a fantastic documentary tonight, for the third time. It’s called FLOW (standing for For Love of Water). The documentary discusses the privatization and pollution of the world’s water, and highlights the growing problem of water shortage, and what we must do to prevent it. I wrote a brief post about this a few months ago, and it’s certainly something I’ll explore more in the future.

But what really caught my attention this time around was a very short quote, from an elderly Indian Gandhian. The venerable man said, shortly and simply, “Twenty-first century is the century of common people.” Now, I apologize if this doesn’t strike you in the same way as it struck me, but this really made me start thinking.

A little interjection here: As far as I can tell, the phrase “century of the common people” is based on a speech given by Henry A. Wallace, FDR’s vice-president, in 1943 on the goal of the Allies in the Second World War. In the speech (which you can find here), Wallace says that the 20th century can and must be the century of the common man, not the century of America. I assume that this is what the Gandhian based his idea for the 21st century on.

I tend to think of the future in pretty optimistic terms, and I think that the world is generally getting better, albeit slowly. But a number of events over the past few years have really called my view into question. As I’ve grown up in the US, I’ve seen a terrible economic crash, horrific terrorist attacks, natural disasters compounded by human error, a plethora of wars, arguably one of the worst presidents this nation has ever had, and a whole host of other terrible things. So it’s been hard over the past few years to convince myself that things are getting better on the whole.

But! There are still many things that make me think positively about the future! And this is one of them.

Now, I can’t claim to know exactly what the gentleman in this film was referring to when he said “the century of common people.” But I can certainly tell you how I interpreted it! This phrase has helped give form to an idea I’ve been having for quite some time now, about the ways in which the world is improving, and that idea is this: Even though there is still great suffering and division in the world today, people are becoming much more willing and able to understand each other, help each other, and grow closer to each other, even with oceans of water, difference, or disagreement between them.

I see much greater understanding between people of different faiths, cultures, beliefs (political, philosophical, religious, or otherwise), and lifestyles looking past their differences in an effort to understand each other more, and this is what the Century of Common People looks like. We’re moving into a time when we can live with and even love the differences in other people, and regard them in a deep and loving way, no matter how dissimilar we may be.

I’ve decided to break up this post into multiple parts, as it’s already becoming fairly lengthy and will keep growing. Check back soon for the sequel!

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Seeking the Spiritual: Perception From Belief

A member of the English Defence League, a group whose harmful beliefs have definitely given rise to dangerous perceptions, in their case, of Islam. (Photo credit: Gavin Lynn. Source: Creative Commons)

One of my favorite overused cliches is “seeing the world through tinted lenses.” While this line is used far too often, it’s still a good one.

We all see the world in different ways, and I’ve come to realize more and more that these different views and visions about the world drastically alter the way we see our environments and everything (and every person) around us. In other words, our perceptions of things stem directly from our beliefs about those things.

While this is a very natural thing, it can also be a very harmful one. If we have harmful beliefs, we’ll begin to develop harmful perceptions to match those beliefs! For example, if I hold the false belief that all fruit is poisonous, I won’t eat any fruit, and that will take a toll on my health. I see this kind of progression from dangerous belief to dangerous perception (and ultimately to dangerous action) all the time, in the news and in the world around me.

A great example of this is the story of Terry Jones and his church in Florida. Last summer, Jones’ tiny, 60-member church made clear its intention to publicly burn a copy of the Qur’an. There was a huge uproar over this (and rightly so) from nearly all sectors, including the American military (who feared this had the potential to cause a spike in terrorist attacks), and eventually Jones gave up the notion. But this last March, Jones decided to go through with his initial book-burning plans, staging a mock trial of the Qur’an on his website on March 20th, on what he called “International Judge the Koran Day.” The “trial” ended with a burning of the holy book.

Naturally, this outraged Muslims, particularly in the Middle East, and violent protests have taken place in Afghanistan and elsewhere, leaving at least a dozen dead. This is a perfect example of a dangerous belief turning into a dangerous perception and then into a dangerous action. And, as we saw here, it was only one more step toward yet more dangerous and violent actions, all of this due to a crazy belief.

But it’s not as if we can (or should) carefully regulate all of the thoughts and beliefs of all people in a country, much less in the entire world. So what can we hope to do? We can watch our own beliefs, and be carefully aware of what kind of perceptions stem from those beliefs. I’m of course not saying that my readers are likely to start burning holy books of any religion! What I am saying is that it’s much easier to let our beliefs become our perceptions than most people want to acknowledge. And if we allow our negative thoughts and beliefs about other people affect us too deeply, then our negative perceptions of those people will grow stronger.

It can be very difficult to keep our beliefs from affecting our perceptions, because it’s only natural to do so! But what’s so important for us to remember is to keep our negative beliefs from giving us negative thoughts and attitudes toward others, especially when those attitudes become negative actions. We can only start getting rid of harmful beliefs when we don’t let them become harmful perceptions.

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A Life of Simplicity

Maybe there's a simpler side to life.

Our human lives are extraordinary, complex, and truly wondrous things. I don’t just mean this in a biological sense either; the human mind, society, and community is really incredible when you stop and think about it.

But there are so many areas of our lives and so many different ways in which we complicate things! The lives we lead in the modern day are of a much higher standard of living than almost any time or civilization in the past, but the high-speed, large-scale, generally consumerist philosophy of American culture seems to have taught us to constantly want more than we need. The aggressive advertising in today’s world is a natural outcome of a huge corporate entity, which is again a natural outcome of a growing population and economy.

Many of us as Westerners have convinced ourselves that the key to happiness is to fill our lives with every good thing we can find. We want a good house, a good family, a good car, a good job, and of course, the good life we’ve convinced ourselves will come out of all this. But the bar keeps getting higher! Society keeps telling us that we don’t quite have everything we need to be truly happy, so many people have become convinced that once they get one more thing, they’ll be happy. The bar keeps being raised.

Why do we do it this way? Why not find simpler, easier goals for ourselves to achieve, rather than constantly striving to meet society’s ever-rising status quo? Our existence has become laden with all kinds of baggage, baggage about who we should be, what kind of life we should lead, what we should think, say, and do, even what clothes we wear and what food we eat! More importantly, a huge and hugely complex social structure of codes and laws has been formulated and is the basis for so many of the interactions we hold. Many talk to the poor as if they were the dirt under society’s feet, while anyone addressing the president would never dream of doing such a thing.

When you really stop and think about it, almost none of this is inherent in our being as humans. The idea proposed by Locke comes to mind here: When we’re born, each of us is a tabula rasa, a blank slate. Things are “written” and impressed on us from the very moment our mothers give birth to us, as our experiences and the environment around us shapes who we are through our whole lives. Now, I need to interject here by saying that I don’t think we’re born completely blank. People have their own natural preferences, and whether that’s biological, mental, or even somehow spiritual, I can’t claim to know. My point though, is that so much of our perception of the “self” has been passed down and dictated to us by past and present society that we’ve lost a lot of our ability to think outside of those boundaries.

We’re told from the beginning of life that there is a certain way society works and holds together, and that there are certain rules and guidelines of a stable, healthy society that must be followed. For example, many people “naturally” regard a beggar asking for money on the side of the road as a drug-ridden lowlife, someone who has thrown away their life on alcohol and bad decisions. On the other hand, most people would respect a doctor or lawyer implicitly, based solely on their profession. But while going to law or medical school might better equip someone to deal with legal or physiological problems, it does not change the inherent value of a person.

So here’s my challenge: Stop thinking of things in the ways you’ve been taught, or at least exclusively so. Challenge yourself to leave behind your preconceived notions of the world and especially of other people, and strive to lead a simpler, less presupposing life. And finally, make you the self you want to be. Don’t let other people and outside influences exclusively make you who you are. Allow them to challenge your perceptions and ideas, but make your decisions and your life for yourself. If we could all be free from the preconceived notions that have been passed down to us about the world, we could transform ourselves and society from the inside out.

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