The young people who live and work with people with disabilities in L'Arche (and my daughters) are part of an amazing group. Most of them fall into the Global Millennial demographic, meaning that they were born between 1980 and 2000, and as such, are the first people on the planet to come of age at a time boasting both virtual and physical reality -- the world generated by computer technology and the world as we experience it without digital screens, through our five senses. As our presenter, University of Lethbridge sociologist, James Penner, often reminded us, they are natives when it comes to life in cyberspace, while those of us born before the 80's are immigrants. (I am reminded of that fact every time I have to ask one of my girls for help with our cell phone! And it's not even the latest and greatest version!)
James unpacked a lot of information about Global Millennials for our group, ideas that will hopefully help us to be better accompaniers. For example, we learned that the core values of these young people aren't very different from our own (friendship, freedom, trust, honesty, being loved...) -- but that the things they worry about rank differently than the concerns of other demographic groups. The fact that they are living in a world of technology has done little for their sense of purpose, security and belonging. They have grown up in a world where human work is becoming devalued and replaced more and more by machines, where the economy's bottom line trumps everything, where hands-off (day care) parenting has been the norm for many families, and where capitalism has turned the planet into one big resource to be exploited.
The good news is that many Global Millennials are seeing through the myths that present-day consumer culture expects them to adopt as truths. They are beginning to understand deep down that the absolute autonomy and independence of individualism won't carry them as far as the interdependence they can find in community. They are learning that the pursuit of money, pleasure and possessions above all else is a sure way to emptiness and loneliness. They have started to see, quite clearly, that having a bunch of titles or degrees after one's name is no guarantee of success, and that personal identity goes beyond what a person does for a living.
"Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be. This is the interrelated structure of reality," said Martin Luther King Jr. And so, an awareness of what our Global Millennials are up against can aid us to be better listeners who can help them toward a fulfilling adulthood. The young people I accompany both in L'Arche and at home have many gifts and talents, but don't always see their own potential, so the trick is to grab hold of opportunities to underline their value and steer them toward meaningful adulthood. If we can name their value for our world, and head them in a direction where they'll find opportunities to put their talents and passions to work, the world will only be better for it.
James Penner has had more than your average amount of experience in working with young people, which makes him an excellent and practical presenter on reaching out to our youth because he's been doing just that most of his life. He has much valuable information for parents, educators and faith communities, and his website can be found by clicking here. He's also written some very interesting books that can be found under the bookshop tab. I really enjoyed hearing his presentations and getting to know a man who is passionate about making a difference in the lives of youth -- and their supporters.
I'll leave you with a TED talk, part of which James shared with us. Peter L. Benson pioneered work on the positive facets of youth development (rather than the negatives, which are often what research looks at). Focusing on their positives is definitely a much more helpful way to understand and support our young people in our challenging world, a way that empowers them. Just think what the world would be like if we all operated according to our spark!