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Opinion

Hope for reversing America's decline: the Millennial Generation

Young people aren't really "going to the dogs." With their upbeat, service-oriented drive to help others, Millennials give this flawed age an important counter-force for progress.

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How to choose a “winner” between Dan and Natalie? Our unanimous vote was to choose both (until the sponsoring paper forced our hand.)

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Seeking the 'high purpose'

At about the same time, I read of Michael, a high-school junior from our area, who won the state’s “Letters about Literature” award with an essay on the White Rose Society. The White Rose Society was a group of German university students who tried to mount resistance to Hitler, with tragic results. Most were arrested by the Gestapo and executed. Why exactly did Michael choose this topic? Because, he said in a newspaper interview, he wanted to study and write about people his age who had found purpose – “a high purpose” – something to live and die for.

Then, more recently, Meagan, a new college graduate of my acquaintance, joined the Peace Corps, specifically because, she said, “I want to be part of something bigger than just me-me-me.” Meagan is now training to work in Mozambique on AIDS. And, at an election-night party last month, it was the young people who were most exercised about the blatant anti-Muslim rhetoric unleashed in the controversy over the Islamic center proposed near ground zero. “It’s so un-American,” they said.

The moral life, the rightness and wrongness of things, high purpose, something bigger than self… In ethical-moral content, these goals embody a powerful, not-so-subtle critique of the culture now at large – a culture of ethical-moral laxness and the narcissism of me-me-me at the expense of the commonweal. These ethical-moral goals also embody a critique of the regnant generation – the boomers – a critique that would take a book to unpack. (In brief, the boomers started out strong, when their more conscientious cohort tackled the Greatest Generation’s faults – racism, sexism, anti-Semitism – and curtailed an unnecessary war in Vietnam. But these achievements were swamped in time by the self-indulgence of the boomers’ larger, less conscientious cohort, reflected in their exorbitant consumerism and lack of social-political involvement.)

Hope for reversing America's decline

If we are to reverse America’s decline and fall, if America is to rise again, restore itself to its principled ideals, it will be due not to more horsepower applied more energetically, as is so often the American way. It will be because a counter-force posing the tough ethical-moral questions – of ways and means, of program and purpose, of war and peace – has been pressed by the incoming generation, by the likes of Dan, Natalie, Michael, and Meagan.

For sure, with the ship of state heaving about as it is, to press this counter-force will be daunting. Moreover, too many Americans think such an ethical-moral mission is boring, even grim. But if I may pass on my own acquired insight: The life engagé, precisely because it is engaged in high purpose, makes for a most meaningful existence and a most passionate, exciting ride. Buckle up, o happy young warriors!

Carla Seaquist is author of the book, “Manufacturing Hope: Post-9/11 Notes on Politics, Culture, Torture, and the American Character,” a collection of op-eds, essays, and dialogues. Also a playwright, she is working on a play titled “Prodigal.” She blogs at Huffingtonpost.com

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