When I look around at my peers, I see a great deal of confusion, insecurity, instability, and/or non-commitment. I first thought that this had to do with comparitive opportunities: where our parents might have had relatively few choices regarding what they might do with their lives (limited by finances, education, family, etc.), my generation(s) seem to have fewer, if any, barriers. Education is relatively easily accessible and affordable, the Internet makes information pervasive and instantly available, and the cost of learning continues to decline.
I began to think that, if we are unable to decide what we want to do with our lives, it isn’t because we don’t have the opportunity to do what we like. Rather, it’s because we see and experience so much we enjoy that we can’t settle on what we want to do. Despite this initial conclusion, however, it didn’t seem to fit. We could do a little of everything, or settle on something, and enjoy our lives, but I don’t see a lot of people who are satisfied. Rather, most everyone I know continues to yearn for something else, usually something indefinable.
While conversing with April about this topic, we came upon an interesting thought. Our parent’s generation (labeled as the Baby Boomers, from which both Generations X and Y really sprung) were a group of independent, centralized small families. Following World War II and especially the Vietnam War and subsequent political fallout, there was a move away from the larger community, with a greater a focus indoors on the household, on the family, and on isolationism.
I believe that growing up in this setting has instilled in our generation a deep and abiding desire for community that we might neither understand nor acknowledge. We know that we are unsatisfied, that we want something more, but we’re not finding it in money, materialistic goods, education, careers, etc. We want a family, but we want more than the nuclear family of our parents.
For a lot of people, though, I think that desire has been associated with negative experiences from our childhoods to the extent that people are hesitant to seek out the community they desire. A dislike of “organized religion,” or organized-anything for that matter, leaves people in a place where they cannot get the satisfaction and help they need. And so people remain unsatisfied, frozen, and insecure.
And if one isn’t put-off by an organized group (and let’s face it, someone has to bring people together for there to be a community; there has to be a core before anything else can form), their hesitance tends to come from other insecurities. We become afraid to invest in people because either we might leave or they might. College-age students in particular struggle with this, because their time in any location is limited: once they graduate, get a job, etc., they’re gone and those relationships are left behind.
Or, in perhaps the most self-destructive state, we do not seek out community because we feel selfish doing so. We don’t feel like we’re worthy of friendship, or we feel like we’re imposing on others by seeking them out. We are hurt by our loneliness, and then hurt ourselves further because we cannot trust others to help. We do not seek help and so degenerate into self-imposed isolation and depression.
Those of us who are secure, and have found our communities, have an obligation to reach out to others and alleviate their loneliness. Some people might not know what they are seeking, but they will know when they have found it. All we have to do is welcome them with love and the rest will take care of itself.