A New Civic Generation

USA Today had an article last week on how the Millennial Generation (born 1982-200?) is stepping up volunteering. There are a couple quotes by “Millennial Makeover” authors, Morley Winograd and Michael D. Hais (I am reading their book right now).

“Other generations were reared to be more individualistic,” Hais says. “This civic generation has a willingness to put aside some of their own personal advancement to improve society.”

If you are a Gen-X’er (born 1961-1981), take a look at this gallery that is included in the article. These kids are not acting much like we did in our youth. If you are like me, you probably can’t help think, “Damned goody two shoes! I’m not buying the act!”. Our Gen X cynicism sure dies hard.

6 thoughts on “A New Civic Generation”

  1. I have been disturbed by the celebratory attitude granted to a generation that, for the most part, hasn’t yet completed grade school. As much as I appreciate the positive aspects of the Millennials, I find the Boomer celebration of their own children to be narcissistic and underwhelming. I don’t recall the GI Generation – the last so-called “Greatest Generation” – being held up as the exemplar of greatness as children. They simply did things for society that WERE great. They EARNED their title.

    These children are great by being born and doing what, quite frankly, generations before them have done. Gen X’ers have also been civically engaged – they just invented their own civic organizations, such as Teach for America. While involvement in civic organizations died off during our time, we were castigated for not participating in doing whatever it is that we were SUPPOSED to do as young people, which I find to be our disgust with hegemony. No one cared about us, so we were less likely to care about the world.

    The most cynical part of me views this form of plugged-in civic behavior and thinks “What tools they are.” Find your own footing in life – not one manufactured for you.

    1. @Christina – I am not sure whether the GI’s were held up a great in their youth. There certainly was a lot expected of them early on and that is true of the Millennials as well. Were the GI’s the “everyone get’s a trophy Generation”? Probably not. But there is a similarity of character between the GI’s and the Millennials that is hard for many to see because there are very few people living that knew the GI’s as young adults. Gen X’ers had nowhere near the level of civic engagement (or political involvement) as the Millennials at the same age.
      Your comment about “What tools they are” is similar to mine of seeing it as a bunch of bullocks. Us Gen X’ers are cynical that way which can be seen as a flaw. It is also a strength because we are so pragmatic and just prefer to get things done without a lot of hoopla. The Millennials will likely follow a much more “manufactured” life that we Gen X’ers ever did. I totally agree that no one cared much about us in our youth and that we have had to make our own way since. Our creativity and individual competence are qualities that the Millennials just don’t have. We need to recognize those strengths without taking anything away from theirs. Even if they are “tools” in our opinion.

  2. Just this weekend, at eDemocracy Camp in D.C., I found myself in a similar conversation. While others extolled Millennials’ rise in public service and civic engagement, I agreed … and then offered a twist on the concept of GenX “civic” engagement. See, GenX in childhood and young adulthood are isolated and cynical. We don’t volunteer largely *inside* organizations doing happy work to support existing structures. No, instead we made a profound impact and added billions of dollars of value to organizations, individuals and governments through our Geekdom.

    I wrote a blog post about it: “Geeks Rule the Underworld” back in 2007. http://is.gd/tMSn

    1. @JessieX I agree that our (Gen X) contributions to society are enormous and will likely be overlooked. I think that is one of the reasons why many Gen X’ers are already bitter and many more will become so in our old age. We were ignored as kids, reviled as young adults, left to make our own way in midlife and will probably be discarded as elders. That’s our script and the card we have been dealt. The Millennials have another path, but at least we won’t have to deal with their kids (the next “Boomers”)!

  3. I wonder if the Millenials are just trying to make their resumes look good? Maybe because they are paying attention and they don’t want to end up like the underemployed impoverished Gen X generation, but they can do so without cynicism and bitterness because unlike us, they don’t realize how easy it was (mostly) for boomers to get career success. Also, they can rest assured that they will outlive the boomers stranglehold on society.

    1. @susan I do think that Millennials are realists when it comes to making their resume look good. I have seen several posts on Millennial blogs about the career benefits of volunteering. Many of us Gen X’ers had fewer chances at volunteering at a young age: it wasn’t encouraged, we had to make money to survive on our own and we lacked the civic nature. BTW, the Boomers may be making out better than Generation X, but it is the Silents (born 1925-1942) who really made great money over the last 20 years in investments. They may have lost their shorts in the recession though…

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