Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Indifferent or Overwhelmed

Catherine Martin counters Thomas Friedman's claim that the current generation of 20-somethings is complacent and passive.

We are not apathetic. What we are, and perhaps this is what Friedman was picking up on, is totally and completely overwhelmed. One of the most critical questions of our time is one of attention. In a 24-7 news climate, it is all but impossible to emotionally engage all of the stories and issues you are taking in, and then act on them in some pragmatic way. So instead, young people become paralyzed. (It seems that all of us are a bit paralyzed. After all, what are Friedman's peers really doing? And aren't his peers the ones with the most straightforward kind of power?)

My generation tries to create lives that seem to match our values, but beyond that it's hard to locate a place to put our outrage. We aren't satisfied with point-and-click activism, as Friedman suggests, but we don't see other options. Many of us have protested, but we -- by and large -- felt like we were imitating an earlier generation, playing dress-up in our parents' old hippie clothes. I marched against the war and my president called it a focus group. The worst part was that I did feel inert while doing it. In the 21st century, a bunch of people marching down the street, complimenting one another on their original slogans and pretty protest signs, feels like self-flagellation, not real and true social change.

I do see some of this amongst my own peers. I wonder if the feeling of being overwhelmed couldn't be partially overcome by banding together with like-minded people. A group of friends can come together to discuss things that are important to them. Perhaps one or two who are really into international affairs can focus on the goings on of the world. Another person who is a law junkie can keep up on legal affairs in our country. Someone who has some knowledge of agricultural practices in America can keep everyone updated on the latest in that sector. Monthly meetings can be held for everyone to come together and talk about issues with ideas for how people in the group can help or effect change. Maybe I'm being a bit idealistic, but I think that with the "overwhelming" number of issues we have to face, it only seems logical that a group can better do something about them than an individual.

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