In June 2010 Tom Wayman was in Kelowna, doing a reading from his newly published novel, Woodstock Rising. At the end someone asked him what he thought was the legacy of the Woodstock era. His answer was, “hope”. He said young people now know so much more than we did, but they have no hope.
I’m thinking of his observation today, as news comes that the London, Ontario, Occupy camp was disbanded by police in the middle of the night. They had warned the protesters, who probably figured they wouldn’t act on the threat to close down the camp. Still, the midnight raid smacks of a kind of mentality that does nothing to encourage confidence or hope.
The democracy movements of the Arab Spring and the encampments of the Occupy movement make me feel tender toward young people now trying to find a place for themselves. The gap between rich and poor is widening globally. Richard Wilkinson’s surveys of countries where inequality is most pronounced make it clear that along with the gap come poorer health, more social problems and a general downturn in quality of life for everyone.
Still, I’m not sure Wayman is right that young people have no hope. The young people I know seem optimistic about their future in spite of all the storm clouds on their horizon. So I turned to the Web to find out something about the generation being referred to as Millennials, the first generation to come of age in the new century (born between 1981 to 2000).
The Pew Research Center characterizes the American Millennials
- the most ethnically diverse cohort in U.S. history
- the most politically progressive age group
- the first generation to grow up completely immersed in a digital world
- the least religiously observant generation
- more inclined to trust institutions than the Gen Xers or Baby Boomers
Canada’s Reginald Bibby, a sociologist at the University of Lethbridge, and one of the country’s most respected trackers of social trends says his research shows the Millennials:
- have solid values such as concern for others, forgiveness and hard work
- rank relationships and social networking as being of high importance
- enjoy their parents
- are less likely than older generations to smoke, drink or use drugs
- feel safe at home and school
- have positive views of themselves and the future
Both overviews paint a hopeful picture of young people in North America. Maybe one of the gifts they will bring, in a time of lowered economic expectations and increasing environmental concerns, is a shift away from a consumer society. The planet needs us to be more responsible about our use of the resources it so generously provides. Perhaps the Millennials will lead the way.
NB: More reason to pin our hopes on these young people in today’s news: Generations Divided over Paying Extra for Eco-Friendly Food. According to this survey by AB Sustain, it’s the young who are most willing to pay more.