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Over at The Gospel Coalition, Glenn Stanton has written a fascinating article analyzing research comparing the relative civic-mindedness of Baby Boomers, Generation X (my generation, by the way), and the Millennials. Stanton takes on the seemingly universally-held view that Millennials are "[t]he most community service-minded, action-oriented, let's change-the-world-generation alive today, perhaps in the history of our nation. Generation We."
Turns out it's not true. By virtually every measure, the Millennials are less community-minded than the preceding generations were at equivalent ages, sometimes dramatically so. One of the most jolting measures is the low rate of military service, with the present generation only a third as likely to serve as the generation before.
In other words, the longstanding lament of the older generation regarding "kids these days" may actually have some merit. "Kids these days" – measured by their actions – are more selfish than at any time in recent history.
But lest we pile on the kids too much, let's not forget that they're living the lives we've taught them to live. We may have been less-selfish kids, but are we less-selfish adults? Let's look at my own generation's track record:
-For almost a full decade before 2008, by our actions we taught our kids that you can and should buy whatever you want, whenever you want (on credit, no less), and when our own individual decisions to over-extend resulted in an inevitable economic crash, then the sole blame rested with far-away bankers and regulators – who apparently should have stopped us from getting what we so obviously wanted. Yet the crash of 2008 wasn't just the government's fault, or the bankers' fault, it was also our fault. Millions of bad mortgages require millions of bad decisions – decisions we made and are now only too happy to blame on others.
-After 2001, we taught our kids that the right response to the deadliest attack on American soil was, well, not much more than going shopping, thanking a soldier, and maybe – just maybe – tying a yellow ribbon on a mailbox or sending a care package overseas. For more than a decade, the vast majority of my generation stood on the sidelines cheering on the tiny minority who've risked their lives time and time again to keep us safe. Not everyone can serve, but how could so few even consider putting on the uniform?
-As illegitimacy rates soar, and divorce remains rampant, millions of parents teach their kids that you never really do grow up, that sexual fulfillment matters more than fidelity, and that your own happiness matters more than the lives around us. The principles of the sexual revolution are quickly supplanting the ideals of the American Revolution as the defining moral characteristics of our Republic.
-We teach our children that the suffering of those around us is someone else's problem, and that we do enough for our fellow man if we merely support and vote for our ever-expanding (and destructive) welfare state while maybe, just maybe, writing a (modest) check or two ourselves.
-We devalue true virtue and hard work by over-praising our kids' slightest accomplishments, sheltering them from even the smallest consequences of sin, and grant them grace on the cheap – all in the name of love.
If the youngest generation truly is "Generation Me" – and the data indicates it is – then we can respond by wringing our hands about "kids these days," or we can do what we should: Repent of our own sins and resolve to model the selflessness that we long to see in our own children.
Simply put, "Generation Me" is really my generation, as we've taught them to live. Shame on them for being selfish?
No, shame on us.