I think more and more about our generation. Children of Clinton, teens of 9/11, adults of Facebook. Have so many ever known so much about the world they are about to inherit? Have so many choices ever been given to the chosen youth of the chosen people of the world? And what will we show for ourselves?
One of my best friends is going to be a regular on HBO’s “True Blood.” She’s always wanted to be an actress; she is an actress. One of my friends from high school always wanted his own apartment; yesterday he moved in. Another never wanted to be a teacher; he starts in January.
The smartest friend I know works at Goldman Sachs on Wall Street – he’s given up so much in his life for the chance to make it big. Now he’s fighting to keep his head above water.
An acquaintance is one of the brainiacs at Google. He is an asshole. A friend’s ex-girlfriend bicycled across America to raise money for cancer and now she’s enrolled at the London School of Economics. One of the happiest people I know does extra work in Hollywood for a living.
It’s useless to think how history will remember you. It’s like wondering how many people will come to your funeral – a nice thought, but it probably won’t mean much to you in the end.
Yet I can’t help but feel a weight on all of us. Not just the weight of unused talent, not the fulfillment of the “to whom much is given, much is expected” mantra, not the stirrings of the quarter-life crises that we all feel. It’s something bigger, heavier than that.
Maybe it’s the state of our world, the decay of the goals and ideals that once helped to shape the paths of our best and brightest. Maybe it’s the endemic selfishness passed down from post-World War II generations that stresses personal achievement at the expense of all else.
But more than anything, I feel the responsibility of our intense interconnectedness. We benefit from technological advances that are profoundly social and immediate in their impact, from cell phones to e-mail to microblogging and networking sites, we have the ability – and the onus – of knowing what our generation is doing, collectively and as a movement.
It’s not status updates like “so drunk last night, lol” and “Kellie is so psyched about her new puppie” that sustain us, but self-awareness demands acknowledgement that we are not alone. No longer can we hide behind small world excuses, trimming our own hedges and painting only the insides of our fences.
Our world is as immeasurably vast and complex as it has always been but is now accessible in ways it never was before. Our fences, such as they are, should no longer keep in our own aspirations, just as they cannot keep out the hopes and fears of all who call this small, blue sphere home.
The economic downturn provides a true moment for introspection. How will we deal with the deferment of dreams?
The world may very well be in a financial holding pattern for the next several years. We may end up having a worse standard of living than our parents and grandparents, so far as money markets and hedge funds can explain. But isn’t there more?
Will we remain stagnant, blaming those who came before us for a rotten deal or will we take up the charge of what Tom Brokaw might call our Greatest Generation, rising from the ashes of the 1930s, and imagine ourselves as part of a movement greater than personal wealth quotas and standard of living indexes? This country and this globe are not great because of our capacity to earn and spend, but because our perceptions can still in large part determine our reality.
Perhaps now is not the time to buy a house or new car, start a family or line the retirement fund. But there is so much more to be done.
I came up with a great many excuses to miss my high school reunion, some of them justified, others not. But more than anything, I felt less of a need to go, only inasmuch as I feel a part of that class everyday.
There are only 96 of us, and that’s a class that can rise and fall on the collective accomplishments of its members. There were thousands more in my class at USC, and millions more in my generation in this country and across the world.
Let us accept and understand the requirements for advanced citizenship that have been laid before us. May we together not lose sight of ourselves, not merely as haves-and-have-nots, this-alum and that-alum, he-saids and she-saids, but as stewards aware and accepting of the future we have yet to create.