A Dream Deferred?

MLK at Wash. DC

Martin Luther King Jr. at the March on Washington, August 28, 1963

Fifty years have passed since the historic oration given by King in the summer of 1963. In the years of torment that embroiled the childhoods’ of many Boomers (and the first Gen X-ers), a voice of peace spoke to the masses gathered in Washington DC on that hot August day.

As  a child of 1 Boomer and 1 Quiet, I was raised with a focus on seeing people for who they were, not the characteristics that defined them. This could have had as much to do with my diverse urban environment as my parents and teachers consistently guiding me to value people as people, and not lose myself to quick judgments. Stereotypes may have been helpful when determining snap judgments for survival like food and predators in early times, but in society today it remains an issue rooted in much of the conflicts we face.

We cannot blame stereotypes for all of society’s issues. When lack of knowledge leads to fear and fear leads to hate, no one receives the dream that King envisioned and that so many have struggled to make real. Racism still holds an insidious grip on the hearts of many in this world. It could be much less pronounced, often seen as “inappropriate,” but it still seeks to divide people. It may not be possible to eliminate all snap judgments (again, our brains saving energy and taking shortcuts rather than thinking), but people around the world need to see a shared community that takes the lead over smaller divisive issues. If we see ourselves as part of the community, even disagreements and tough feelings can be addressed effectively.

In preparing this post, I read Langston Hughes’s “Harlem” and thought about the progress that has been made over 50 years. Hughes wrote the poem more than 12 years before the historic march, but the imagery is deeply prescient for today’s society. The poem questions what happens to a deferred dream, and over the years I believe there have been moments to match each description. We have entered the crust stage as people try to sugarcoat the issues of racism claiming to be in a “post-racial” world. The issue is still there, only our treatment has changed. The same could be said of the equally insidious problem of poverty in this country when so many work and can’t reach financial equilibrium because the system won’t allow it.

Millennials may focus much on the inner self, but when it comes to the suffering of others, we don’t think it appropriate to sit by and do nothing. To be frank, we feel it’s the right of every individual to achieve the level of personal development that the individual wishes, and things like racism and poverty aren’t helping that process. As trials and legislation flash through the 24 hour news cycle, we must try to see the issues from all perspectives and find ways of balancing justice and amending the habits and the hurts of our past.

In order to make King’s dream a reality, we need to see ourselves as the people of the dream. We must embrace our neighbors, respect all people as they are, and live as part of a larger community. No great accomplishment or terrible wrong was ever achieved by a sole agent. If we are to remove hate and discrimination, raise families with a means of self subsistence, and make peace happen, it will be because we said “NO!” to division and “YES!” to working in unity for a better future.

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A question to my fellow Millennials: How do you see King’s dream being made a reality? What things are preventing that reality, and what can we do to overcome them?

Count The Grains Of Sand

Sandpipers on beach

Sandpipers at Sandy Hook Beach, NJ, Summer 2012

Today marks an important day in the restoration of damages from Hurricane Sandy. Six months after the devastating storm pounded the Northeast of the U.S., areas are reopening, including Sandy Hook Beach in New Jersey. Sandy Hook has always been near and dear to me among the beaches I’ve known. Coney Island, Jones Beach, Ocean Grove, Long Beach Island, can also be counted, and I know that people in these parts have special memories from many of the available beaches. The picture above was taken last year close to the end of the summer. One thing that Sandy Hook allowed me was the chance to relax and contemplate. I enjoy the sand and surf, but seeing the waves and wildlife helps me gain a perspective that is elusive in daily life.

When I was small and learning to count, I thought the sandpipers were counting the grains of sand. I’d laugh and laugh as they ran back and forth inspecting the grains as the waves lapped at the sand. “It must take them forever to count all that sand,” I thought; though from a child’s perspective, a few months to your birthday or holidays can be an eternity. I look at the sand now and I know each grain started as something larger. It took time, a long time, for each grain of sand to find its way to that shore, to find its way onto my beach blanket, and to sneak home with me in my car. Sand doesn’t happen overnight, but it gets renewed by nature, and when people step in to boost the shoreline; these things take consistency. The destruction from this storm will leave marks for years, but we will rebuild, and it may take time, even a long time for some people. The important thing will be consistency. We must remember what happened, and take steps to ensure a safer future. For any person affected by natural disaster, we must not forget after the news crews find a new story. Help will always be needed and appreciated in this world.

As a resident of the tri-state area, I saw great destruction during and after the storm. Yet, for all the wind, water, and debris, the human spirit would not be crushed. I’m reminded of a picture taken in Hoboken, NJ where power strips and a sign inviting others to charge their phones hung outside someone’s home. I remember first responders who worked to save other people even while their own homes were facing damage. Whether by job requirement, religious calling, or human camaraderie, people banded together. We saw the destruction and the suffering of others and tried to find ways of alleviating the troubles. News coverage of the past few days has been showing improvements in some areas, but there is still a great amount of work to be done.

Millennials will face more storms in the future if current trends follow predictions. We must think of ways to ensure safety and live in balance with nature. Let us be the best examples of ourselves in future challenges, so that future generations will be better prepared for disasters. If we cannot offer financial help because we are struggling ourselves, let us offer our time and compassion. You may discover many things by being open to experience, and being willing to help just for the sake of helping others. One day, what was lost will be rebuilt. As Gen Y faces the buffeting winds of the economy and job market, we will also reach our future goals. Overcoming adversity applies for disasters and finding your path; the challenge makes the fruits of our labor even sweeter, because we persevere for as long as it requires.

To any of my readers, if you know of a group or resource that can use help from Millennials in disaster response, please comment to help get the word out. Sometimes willing people just need to know where help is needed, and we will do what we can to share that information.

Digital Displacement – Gen Y’s Existential Frontier For Control

ghostphone1

Two kinds of Millennials exist when it comes to our digital devices; one group is like the bowerbird, and the other group is like a hermit crab. Both groups use devices like laptops, smartphones, and tablets, but they differ in how they deal with change. There are few moments in a connected Millennial’s life more traumatic than being disconnected for reasons other than one’s own choice. It is a sad tale of all the devices dunked, dropped, lost, taken, or otherwise out-of-service. The response that determines your metaphorical creature is your ability to handle control; it’s about holding control tenaciously, or going with the flow.

Bowerbirds are indigenous to Australia and New Guinea, and share close evolutionary ties with birds-of-paradise. The male bowerbird goes to great lengths in time and effort to build a bower to attract potential mates. Each male meticulously collects and adjusts his treasures to make them most attractive. If a leave should fall onto his masterpiece, he wastes no time removing it. This behavior is an attempt at complete control over your reality. I am not here to lecture on merits, but I will say that experience in gardening, technology, and traffic have taught me to beware the idea that we can control everything. When a person like this has a device disaster, it may take longer to recoup because of a dislike for change, and desire to be in control.

Those hermit crabs of digital devices are more go-with-the-flow types. If this is your trait, you can probably move from one to device to another with ease. Hermit crabs can be found on land and in the water, carrying their homes with them. In order for a hermit crab to grow, it must shed its tough older skin and find a shell to accommodate its new size. Though vulnerable until it finds a new shell, once in its new home a crab will happily continue its crab priorities. People with accounts and information they can carry from device to device may handle change with more fluidity. Yes, there can be hiccups and growing pains, but a user with experience of change will breeze by their bowerbird contemporaries. Spending energy for what you can impact saves on draining exertions to change the things we do not control.

Millennials are a generation of change. We were not born in a time where what was the norm will be the future as well. As society,  science, and technology push us further and further, we will need to adapt to change, or face the consequences of complacency. Learning how we can change ourselves or change the world all relies on an understanding of what we can control. It can be an upsetting thought that we don’t have any power in life, but it can also be extremely freeing. To wit, we may not control anything in life, but we have at least some control over our responses to what life sends us. We all have different experiences and challenges to face, but we all possess shared power to transcend challenges and get back to important things like happiness and fulfillment.

The next time you experience a device disaster, remember that these things happen. If you are able, try to take steps to keep your information safe and transferable, but don’t be overcome by anger or sadness for your tech. I can personally say that adapting to change has been a challenge at times, but I am happier. I can enjoy using technology, I can disconnect, and I can find a new shell when I’ve outgrown my old one.

 

Fun fact: Hermit crabs are not hermits by nature. If you see them in the wild, they are quite social, living in large groups of 100 or more. As time goes on they find shells by foraging, and can have a big shell swap with many crabs changing homes. Just like Gen Y, it helps to work together and share resources in case you can trade what you have for something that fits even better.