At the beginning of this year, a friend of mine committed suicide. It shook me in a way I hadn’t really experienced before. I questioned myself, my intention, my right to discuss his life–and his death. As his friend, I had done more than was required, but it wasn’t enough. I was kind and inclusive, I did research and tried to equip myself to be able to know him and love him well, but I did not check in. My love was passive–there, I thought, and his to pick up if he needed it. But love must be active. Onus cannot be in the hands of the person who needs more to take it; we must give it to them.
It’s taken me a few days to recognize that the way I felt in the aftermath of his death is very similar to what I’m feeling now. Helpless, ignorant, and inexperienced. I want to talk, but I don’t know what to say, don’t know if I have the right even to speak. I have not appropriately checked in with the people I know and care about within the black community. My love has been passive.
Love must be active.
I have few skills, but I can write. So here I am, wielding the mighty pen in hopes of avoiding the sword. I’m a naive optimist, but I think it takes that kind of vision to set the bar high enough that we might rise to meet it. I think we can make America great, truly, by taking a look at our history and carving a feasible path forward.
I think Millenials can do it.
We’re not the Greatest Generation. Hell, we aren’t even a generation lost in space (though congrats on the launch, SpaceX. Wise move to leave Earth right about now). And to be frank, I typically resent the title “Millennial,” since it assumes our biggest defining trait was the turn of the century. I guess 9/11ers was less catchy.
I’ve long thanked The Art of Manliness for introducing me to generation cycles. I’ve heavily used the Strauss-Howe generational theory as a template for my Collapse series when exploring how my characters ages at Collapse affected them in the long term–from their thoughts, behaviors, patterns, and world views. Now, I can’t help but apply it to the world I’m living in. (PS I have few real skills but I do know a lot in theory about how to survive an apocalypse… ya know, in case this gets worse and you guys need a Wikipedia friend in your tribe).
Averages put the long-resented age bracket of the Millennial generation as between 24 and 40 this year. This year, 2020, which has been one for the books. At 30, I’m well nestled safely within the constraints, so I’m going to lean on my own limited experience (30/F/White-Pacific Islander/American South) to influence this post, but I’m open to (and eager for!) hearing and learning from different perspectives.
According to generational theory, we’re right on track for a cultural crisis (or six). We’ve been itching for it, even. Our films, our books (my book), our superheros–they all address this fear/fantasy that we will be called upon to rise up during hard times and that, God willing, we will be able to do so.
Here’s why I think this is our time to shine, and more importantly, our time to act.
“No matter what form the Crisis takes, it galvanizes people into an action-taking consensus; problems that were once kicked down the road during the Unraveling are finally taken by the horns. Civic authority revives, cultural expression redirects towards community purpose, and people begin to locate themselves as members of a larger group. Self-sacrifice, institution building, and consensus replace self-interest, personal development, and contrarianism as values society encourages. Wanting to protect their children from the turmoil surrounding them, parents are overprotective of their children during the Crisis.”The Art of Manliness
None of us were able to drink yet, some barely able to walk, when the planes struck the NYC World Trade Center towers. I had limited grasp of the situation–I was 11–but I knew it was big. Our parents held us tight and told us it would “be okay.” For many of us this attack on the US also meant an attack on everything we believed, mainly because we had to face the fact that grown ups were liars and that some big, bad invisible force lurked somewhere in the distance.
The years that followed brought war in Afghanistan and Iraq, a burst housing bubble (a graduation gift for many of us), the Great Recession, an oil bust or three, mass shootings, and a re-evaluation of our political structure. This brought us Obama, legal marriage for all consenting adults, #BlackLivesMatter, #MeToo, #TimesUp and eventually led to our current president, Donald Trump, and the rise of #MAGA.
(Note: Everything in that list after Obama is arguably a direct cry for change. All of these things are a plea that those unheard will be heard finally — yes, even Donald Trump).
And America has been great, just not all at once. We can no longer look at Leave it to Beaver without also seeing Emmett Till. We cannot see the highly touted Reagan Era without seeing the corrupt and pervasive War on Drugs which subsequently broke the African American community, or the AIDS epidemic which claimed the lives of hundreds of thousands of Americans and stigmatized the LGBTQIA* community for decades to come.
America is a person with whom we are all in a relationship. She has admirable traits and beautiful moments, but she is also known for her abuse and misbehavior. So how do we heal a person? And how do we heal a broken marriage? By talking, listening, and committing to change.
We now sit in one of the most volatile environments the modern world has ever seen. A pandemic has swept the world and upended economies, and that pressure cooker has brought our sins to a boil. We can no longer be blind to the ways this world is not working. There is violence and destruction in the streets. We’re debating the price of a human life like we’ve somehow forgotten that everyone is someone’s baby.
None of us are safe if one of us is unsafe.
It’s a lovely sentiment, but it’s largely untrue. My father, a 65 year old white man, has felt safe nearly every day of his life.
I feel safe, as a white(ish) woman, as long as it’s daylight, or I’m in a group. If I get scared or attacked, I will call 911 and I expect the police to come and save the day.
It’s possible to live in relative safety and be blind to the ways in which others are unsafe. America has done it for a long time. Yes, I believe we are dealt our cards and must work with what we have, but it’s the responsibility of those with the better hand to be at least aware of what’s at stake for those with less.
Right now, our brothers and sisters in minority communities are grieving, and in many ways, we all are. How do we help a grieving friend? By letting the grief flow out. It’s not the job of the person at the center of grief to console those one step removed. It’s the job of friends to console the grieving party, and then to turn outward to express their own grief. This is how we share a burden together.
We — Millennials — are a generation that demands to know why. We want recognition. We ache for purpose. We understand ‘the grind’ and how to pool our resources for the betterment of ourselves and others (hello, GoFundMe, Uber, and AirBnB). We are also uniquely positioned — both in age and experience — to change the world. We have more knowledge at our fingertips and more potential for exposure to cultures and people unlike ourselves — let’s use it. Let’s do our research. Let’s vote. Hell, let’s run for office–both sides of the aisle can agree that what we’re doing isn’t working. Let’s look beyond our textbooks and understand the real history that we have built our lives upon. Let’s have awkward and uncomfortable conversations to find better solutions. Let’s ask and listen. Think of it as marriage counseling. Are we in it to win, or are we in this to see it work so that we can all experience some sense of safety, worth, and happiness in our relationship? It has to be the latter, or we will never heal.
We have the benefit of longevity–we have seen what works and what does not. The Spanish Flu, the Great Depression, the dust bowl, Civil Rights movements — we’re far enough removed from these to see that the universal “we” can endure these challenges again today, that we can change, but that we must remain steadfast in our pursuit. Yes, it appears to be a bit like our widespread depression — each high implies another low, but every cycle brings with it more experience. Let each experience build more empathy. I hold steadfast to the hope that these turbulent times, too, shall pass, but not if we don’t do the work.
Millennials were reared to be high achievers. Our anxiety and fear that we aren’t accomplishing enough or doing meaningful work can have a purpose — like PTSD keeps us safe in violent and dangerous environments, so, too, can we repurpose our widespread anxious dread into something that suits this environment.
I get asked occasionally how I get so many things done. The truth is, that it is easy to work hard for something you believe in, love, or desire. It’s possible to become exactly who you want to be — it just takes sitting down, assessing your flaws (if you’re unsure, ask your spouse, your friends, your ex, or even probably your barista) and mitigating the difference between who you are and where you see yourself. Take small steps first, then run at full speed.
That’s what we have to do as a culture, as a nation, and as a world. We are each a cog in a machine, but thanks to the assembly line, cogs are fucking versatile. Just because the machine has been one thing before doesn’t mean we can’t recycle it into something better. We’re creative, let’s put it to use.
This doesn’t begin to cover everything. I’m sure it’s tone-deaf, and misses the point in several places. Please let me know; I’ll edit as I grow. I want to hear about the world you dream of–leave your comments below or message me directly. I would love to hear your thoughts and your strategies. What resources have you read or seen that enlightened you? What studies do you think would benefit the world? What part of you hurts right now? Let’s pool our experiences and our resources to build a clearer view of the truth — and of our future together — one where America really is great.