Ask my Millennial children what they think of their Gen X mother on a bad day, and they will inform you, plentifully and in painful detail, exactly what is wrong with me (and therefore, my generation).
They will tell you I am fussy about word usage, that I lack a sense of humor at critical moments, and that I have unnecessary expectations in deed and discussion. They poke fun of me misunderstanding their technology, my inability to figure out a remote control or my iPhone, my complete and utter confusion at their terminology (“Mom, why do you have to be so extra?!”).
This maturing generation of Millennials will be responsible for understanding the past with enough wisdom to protect the future. They, of eager mind to change a world and improve the environment, they who champion the underdogs of society, they who possess desire but not enough real facts and figures, who will be their elders’ caretakers and our country’s executors. These ideologues want everyone to be treated the same and, at the same time, herald diversity as the highest of virtues. It is this generation that shows great enthusiasm for new and novel ideas and yet shrinks from demands placed upon their reason by traditional beliefs.
There are plenty of exceptions, you’ll be quick to point out. You will tell me anecdotal, heartwarming stories, and I will wholeheartedly and happily agree with you. In fact, I delight in knowing many whose descriptions are not encompassed by the scathing words above. I am thrilled with these young people; they are exemplary and reasonable and hard-working and fair-minded. They have intrinsically understood the Proverb: “Let no man despise your youth,” and they make their lives a living testimony to that ideal. It seems, however, that these stellar young are notable exceptions to the generational rule.
The Millennials are the product of generations of moral relativism. They are the inevitable and expected output of hordes of people who turned away from recognizing unchanging moral standards and instead began instructing their young in the pathos of situational ethics.
Who to Blame?
Millennials have been immersed in the idea that each must live according to his or her “own truth,” as if absolutes are impossible to know or to ascribe. Tolerance is a virtue, until they hear something distasteful. Kindness is a necessity, until it must be applied to someone who disagrees with them. Charity is laudable, until it becomes clear it must be they who give. These are the young who have been encouraged to “follow their hearts,” to find work that reflects their passion, to take it easy, to follow a bucket list, to experience the world. All good advice if it comprises a part of the whole, rather than the entirety of teaching from the old to the young.
Rather than only harrumph at this generation of weak characters, we should ask ourselves whether it can be saved. Can we evoke a change in the tide that is flowing so strongly it threatens to overcome a nation?
We can hardly pin the failure of this once-great United States on their frail and unsuspecting shoulders, after all, since it is we who produced them. We have (not) trained them, we have (not) educated them, we have (not) instilled abiding values in their lives. We have raised them with the hope that they are inherently good and that their nature will kick in at some unspecified point and will magically produce fine citizens who have some strength of character. And yet the reality is that none of that is happening.
We have lived an unfortunate experiment of determining what man’s true character is, and it is found wanting.
How to Think About How to Think
Adam J. MacLeod, a professor at Jones School of Law at Faulkner University in Alabama, wrote recently that he finds the majority of his Millennial students want to learn. “But true to stereotype,” he continues, “I increasingly find that most of them cannot think, don’t know very much, and are enslaved to their appetites and feelings. Their minds are held hostage in a prison fashioned by elite culture and their undergraduate professors. They cannot learn until their minds are freed from that prison.”
MacLeod labels what afflicts this generation as a “dis-education” and he wants to undo it. The problem is stark. “This year in my Foundations of Law course for first-year law students, I found my students especially impervious to the ancient wisdom of foundational texts, such as Plato’s Crito and the Code of Hammurabi,” he writes. “Many of them were quick to dismiss unfamiliar ideas as ‘classist’ and ‘racist,’ and thus unable to engage with those ideas on the merits.”
The answer must lie in returning to our roots, to that which older generations knew to be true. We must raise our children with intact families with strong fathers at the helm, with mothers who understand how to train and teach our young, with an expectation placed on them of hard work, of morals that dictate our lives, of honesty and integrity and the very American idea that if we work hard and pursue something with enough true grit, it reasonably can be expected to be ours. Our children need to be taught to handle disappointment, how to grieve, how to think of others, how to love others, and to care for them. They need to accept the word, “No.”
Let’s once again place value on a classical education so that our young have facts at their easy disposal, can apply them rationally and reasonably, and be able to express themselves in a calm and insightful way. Let us pursue entertainment that will righteously feed the fertile grounds of the minds of our children. Let’s return to the church, with all of its stresses on right and wrong, how to live well and profit spiritually. Let’s teach our children obeisance to One greater than them. Let us teach them to recognize grandeur and to discover thankfulness in all things and how to find inner joy and to delight in callouses acquired during a day of hard labor.
What if we started just by teaching our children how to think? What if we used MacLeod’s third rule in our homes and our lives? He writes:
You should not bother to tell us how you feel about a topic. Tell us what you think about it. If you can’t think yet, that’s OK. Tell us what Aristotle thinks, or Hammurabi thinks, or H. L. A. Hart thinks. Borrow opinions from those whose opinions are worth considering. As Aristotle teaches us in the reading for today, men and women who are enslaved to the passions, who never rise above their animal natures by practicing the virtues, do not have worthwhile opinions. Only the person who exercises practical reason and attains practical wisdom knows how first to live his life, then to order his household, and finally, when he is sufficiently wise and mature, to venture opinions on how to bring order to the political community.
Let’s teach this all by example. Let us become the very thing that we want our young to be. Let us start tomorrow—no, today. It is imperative to our future, and to our young people’s future.