Where’s My 3am Friend?

Digital Alarm Clock

It’s 3 am. Do you need a friend?

It’s 3 am.

And for some reason you are awake.

Now unless you are shuffling between your bathroom and your bed or wrapping up a night shift on the job, this is somewhat of an inconvenient time to be awake for many people. Our society is focused on daytime systems, and those with insomnia or major problems in the wee hours have a hard time with it.

That is, unless you have someone to depend on at 3 in the morning. Those folks are what I like to refer to as 3 am friends. I’ve been fortunate to never need a kidney or bone marrow, but these folks whether blood relation or not, would probably step up to the plate because they value our friendship, and they are just good people.

Millennials don’t seem to have a lack of friends as our social media apps describe us, but we may be feeling the effects of fluid friendships all too well. I use the term “fluid friendships” because I happened to have many friends as I went through school. I would not have characterized myself as popular; I define popularity by the number of people that seek to be your friend. I had friendships based on my ability to work within different circles and connect positively; I had to make an effort and got friendship as the reward. These friendships may not have had the depth of other friendships I’ve maintained, but I had a wide circle of people who would include me as a friendly person. As other Millennials have experienced the same situation, what will happen when we need someone at 3 am?

Taking a page from our predecessors, we should cultivate friendships throughout our lifetimes. Boomers and X-ers had to do social networking before social networks, and the connections people share over small things helped to build a community of support when larger needs arose. You could call this a survival strategy, or you could call it a common goal, but here are some tips to assist in building and maintaining those rare 3 am friendships:

1. Connecting has more to do with real connections than internet connections. Take time to acknowledge your friends with phone calls, cards,  or gatherings. Social media isolates people, and the fun times are usually when you are hanging out together.

2. Learn to live in the now. Some friendships pick up right where they left off and others seem stuck in the past. Don’t hold onto past issues if a person seems ready to address things and move forward. Life feels much better when we have less emotional baggage to carry.

3. Be prepared for the unknown. Most times I reach out to folks, I can get through without too much issue or delay. For the times that someone is unreachable or plans change unexpectedly, take it in stride and plan for the future. Friendships should and can endure interruptions, and it’s up to all the people involved to make an effort. This is especially true when something comes up or a person is very busy; a little common courtesy in communicating will strengthen the friendship and help everyone stay on the same page.

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Millennials are changing the world with our ability to forge relationships, but it takes time and effort to maintain these relationships. If you find yourself without many or any 3 am friends, it might be good to work on this in case you ever find yourself in need. By trying to empathize, communicate, share, and reciprocate, we can become that 3 am friend for others and in turn draw more people around us. It doesn’t mean we sacrifice our personal time or space, we increase these things to cover the people in our hearts. If everyone opens their friend circle a little bigger, it may help everyone who needs someone in this world.

Share your thoughts on friendship and Millennials. Tell your stories of the best thing a friend has done for you or maybe you did for someone else.

In Conflict – There Is Room For Solutions

Millennials have gotten a reputation as a generation that fears conflict.

I disagree. Want to fight about it?

But honestly, is there really a person on this planet who would like nothing more than to sow the seeds of discord? (If you raised your hand for that one, consider this was a rhetorical question, and better things happen when people work together.)

As a Millennial, I believe it is not a fear of conflict, but an adaptive strategy that makes our generation move away from fighting.

Before I go any further, I’d like to differentiate between small/general conflicts and larger social conflicts. People of all backgrounds can get riled up and speak out on issues that are important to their world view. Millennials are just as susceptible to larger conflicts according to their perspectives, but I’d venture to say the avoidance/resolution trait is still present.

When it comes to solving conflicts, Millennials have been raised on television and helicopter parents instilling the idea of playing nicely together. Some parents might be shocked at how much their children listened as many Millennials approach conflicts with a goal of resolution rather than escalation. This does not mean that we lack emotions or are wimps; Generation Y has evolved to see that fights rarely lead to positive outcomes, for either side. By coming to the table and trying to address the different facets of an issue, it may be possible to convince another person of our point of view, or speak to our desired outcome in a way that strengthens the odds in our favor. There must be concessions on both sides, but learning to see the world from another person is a great step forward for this generation.

As scientists study the human mind and ponder how we developed our cognitive prowess, Millennials show strong aptitude within the Theory of Mind; this states that a person is aware that other individuals have their own mind, feelings, biases, etc. As children, we learn that our actions can affect other people and their emotional state. As adults, we understand that the perspective of each person is shaped by many factors and we must be mindful of these factors when attempting to find mutual solutions. In essence, we find that honoring the individuality of personal experience leads to a more positive and beneficial group experience when working on conflict resolution.

There will be more posts speaking on conflict in the larger social justice concerns, but here are a few helpful tips if you find yourself dealing with a conflict in your daily life.

1. Remember that both you and the person you are in conflict with are people and are susceptible to emotions, memory, and perceptions. While we may feel we are probably right, we should not let our sureness cloud the possibility that we lack information, have incorrect information, or have yet to see a different perspective. This will work to level the playing field for a fair discussion.

2. Remove expressive emotion from your statements and avoid the blame game. By stating facts and using “I statements” (I feel this, when this happens), you will move the conversation away from agitation and emotion and towards mutual understanding.

3. Allow for cooling off periods. Sometimes people need time to gather their thoughts in order to communicate effectively, and doing this allows a calm approach to any topic. It is acceptable to agree on a time to reconvene if a break is required.

4. Remember that no matter the desired outcome, you and the person/s you speak with probably want a solution without continual conflict. Things may take time to change even if an agreement is reached, but if you keep trying, you will meet your goal. Use the shared vision as a motivator and then try to find more common ground for the best results.

Millennials: Working together through conflict, effectively.

In Our Nature – Earth Day

If you are fortunate to have a little spring weather and the chance to step outside today, take a chance and enjoy the benefits of life on planet Earth. Now, as you breathe in a little fresh spring air, consider that you are, wherever you are, a citizen of Earth.

Millennials are paradoxical. We have ways of existing and understanding concepts that seem impossible to join. We are free-thinkers and individuals, but we like teamwork. Saying and understanding that we are all citizens of Earth is probably an easy thing for anyone in Gen Y, because we have become part of the global community since our introduction to the world. There is nothing wrong with special affinity for our country of origin or current homeland, but strict focus makes us miss the forest for the trees.

Earth Day and the environmental movement came to prominence about a decade before the first Millennial was born. In December of 1970, President Nixon signed a bill that created the Environmental Protection Agency. Earlier that year, celebrations for “Earth Day” were held as people began to see real need to address the health of our planet. A thank you is due to the Boomers and GI generations who saw the world their Gen X children were inheriting and moved to act.

Since those early days, Gen Y had Captain Planet to show us the way. Recycling programs, conservation efforts, and the foresight of older generations, have made Gen Y members attuned to environmental issues. By hearing stories about what we could lose, we understood that enjoying life in the moment did not supersede preserving life for those after us. Dr. Suess’s “The Lorax” was published in 1971, and it remains one of my most treasured books from my childhood. Someone must speak for the trees, speak for the animals, and speak for the people without voice, even if others try to speak louder.

I was very fortunate to grow up with access to urban areas as well as the natural world. On hikes I would hear the birds and insects. While kayaking, I would see fish and feel rocked by Mother Nature’s gentle waves. People forget that we were once a species in the wilderness. At that time our societies drew on our place in nature, not today’s view of being apart from nature. I dislike getting bitten by mosquitoes as much as the next person, but pulling ourselves out of the natural cycle is a dooming option. The famous book, “Silent Spring” about our use of the pesticide DDT showed how we could devastate the natural world at our peril if we were not careful. Our success in anything is not merely measured by our talents or good fortune, but by the home we share that provides the resources for our success.

While we walk on the Earth, we must be stewards of the gifts we have. If someone wished to give a favorite book or heirloom to another after their passing, they would treasure it and keep it safe. Each successive generation that preserves our world ensures all of us the chance to accomplish more as a species. We are in nature, and we must make sure that it remains in us. Go out and enjoy nature today. Make your mark by leaving no mark, take pictures, observe, protect living things, respect the natural world, and leave it better than you found it for those who follow after.

Happy Earth Day – 2013

50 Shades of: “Hey! Where do I fit?”

For many, the age of digital understanding has been a wonderful advance. The connectivity, the sources of knowledge at our fingertips, it’s a smorgasbord of things to delight the senses. With all of these positive aspects, I wonder if this age of definitions has society focusing a little too much? Is there room for a little gray area in life without binary definition?

As humans, we like to deal with things that are concrete and knowable.
– The sun rises in the morning and sets in the evening.
– People age continuously.
– The volume of water in a warm bath will be displaced proportionally by the volume of person or bath toys placed in it.

These statements satisfy an innate urge for definition and structure. Our minds have adapted to contain so much knowledge that our streamlining any information into binary logic keeps more energy available to handle other needs. If we observe early cultures, learning what kinds of food were edible or poisonous was a very important way of using this logic in [yes/no], [good/bad], or [edible/poisonous]. Our advancement from basic survival brought us to a new age where binary logic cannot contain the full parameters of all situations.

This discussion is a long way of saying two things: “Of what can we be certain?” and “Are the defining lines between generations really set in stone?” Employing the scientific method is the best way of determining information to be accurate, at least until new information can be validated on the subject. As for generational lines, I’ve been seeing many sources defining Millennials/Gen Y across varying criteria. Here are my theories on the defining lines:

1. Each century has approximately (5x) generations.
We have to draw the line somewhere, and though there can be overlap accounting for major world events or booms and drops in births, twenty years is a good marker. People in the first year representing the generation are usually (depending on society) considered legal adults shortly before they are 20. Brain researchers have also discovered changes in our minds with seven-year cycles, culminating in a mostly matured mind / prefrontal cortex, by age 21.  If we draw the lines of generation based on physical maturity, 20 year cycles represent a good balance.

2. Generations have shared experiences.
If you are a true Millennial, you were alive before Dick Clark welcomed the year 2000. This gets a little harder to define as people have different memories of events based on their respective age at the time. Still, we shouldn’t discount the younger ones of our group; though I remember certain defining moments in history better than my younger peers, it doesn’t mean that they were unaffected by the same events. Kids are always aware and learning. As one comedian said, “It’s like living with a lawyer for the prosecution.”

Case in point, a family friend was with his three-year-old crossing the street (with a green light and right of way) when a driver at the intersection beeped their horn and startled the child. The father responded appropriately to admonish the driver while keeping it G-rated for his daughter; his daughter ended the encounter by pointing to the driver and saying: “You’re a @–hole!” [Note: The child later turned to her father quietly and said that what she said was a bad word. Kids are always learning, and maturity applies collected knowledge to each new situation.]

Living in a binary world is easier for logic, but it falls short of the full spectrum of knowledge or expression that humans possess. These generation parameters are not sacrosanct, but I think they give a reasoned perspective. Depending on one’s age, you can find affinity for an older or younger generation. Generational taxonomy is more of a map than a dictionary; your place isn’t solely defined by birth, but seeing your peers allows a better perspective of where you are, and where you want to be.

Generation Y: Why Not?

I’ve had a few names hurled at me over the years. Nerd, geek, dork, etc. and for the most part, I’ve come to take these in stride and wear them as badges of honor.

Someone thinks that enjoying learning makes me nerdy?

My response: “Until I’m pushing daisies, I don’t want to be bored playing around with the knowledge I’ve gained so far; I want more!”

Someone thinks that appreciating the arts makes me a theater geek?

My response: “I’ve learned more about the human condition and living life by studying characters than most people learn in a lifetime of experience. I’m just being efficient, and there is so much to enjoy.”

Someone thinks that being silly makes me a dork?

My response: “If you can’t laugh at yourself and find humor in everyday life, what fun are you going to have? There is a time for decorum and being proper which I try to observe, but don’t let me live without laughter, that would be a cruel punishment.”

As I said, these labels and names are not necessarily derogatory if you look at them in the right way. It helps that I’ve had time to understand the labels and find ways of controlling them rather than being controlled by someone else’s notions. Conformity in life to the standards of others is not possible for everyone — especially the case for me if my circle of friends suddenly thought the arts and learning were not worth pursuing.

But I must confess that there is a label that strikes a deep chord when others use it to describe me. That word is “optimist.”

“Wait, did you just say ‘optimist’? I thought that was a good thing.”

Yes, being optimistic is generally considered good, positive, and preferred over the alternative. I have even dubbed myself an “eternal optimist.” However, this is not about creating a label that only I may use to describe myself, it is the manner in which people use the word ‘optimist.’ In today’s society, there seems to be great resistance to people who try to be on the positive side of things. It is as if seeing the world through rose-colored glasses somehow prevents the person from understanding reality.

I am hopeful that Generation Y will uphold idealism with a dose of realism. To be so jaded that nothing will ever change is just accepting the status quo, and a belief that what is positive cannot be achieved. I am not a Pollyanna, but I keep a steady current of positive energy going to handle the ups and downs of life. I am an optimistic realist. I understand that things don’t change overnight, but like Dr. King said, “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” Also, I find peace in the mantra on all things positive and negative in the natural order: “This too shall pass.” While we may miss the good things, they are more special for their impermanence, and the suffering we endure is less potent as it will end in time. With open minds and hearts, Generation Y will be the generation to build bridges between goals and reality.

Millennials may be the generation to push the tough questions; they will pick up the mantle. Of course we have been asking these questions for some time now. As children, we might ask, “Why are people fighting, Daddy?” or “Why don’t people have food and water, Mommy?” Perceptions of fairness as children have carried into adulthood. Now as our siblings or our children in Generation Z start and continue these questions, how will we step forward to provide answers? There may be challenges to making positive changes, but Generation Y must still ask: “Why not?”

To my readers who are members of other generations, I ask that this post not be considered the stuff of idealized naiveté. People often assume to know the minds and knowledge that others possess, and sometimes age is used whether a person is “too young” or “too old” to match the preconceived idea. It does not matter how experienced you are, or how many years you have seen, if you believe everyone has a right to life, love, and happiness. Working to overcome the things preventing worldwide happiness will bring peace and meaning to us all; it takes many perspectives at the table.

I think long into the future and consider what epithet would be left for Millennials. I don’t want to seem morbid, but understanding our legacy can shape our actions today. And I can’t help but have a small curiosity to compare this post to the world of some decades hence, assuming anything living on the net will outlive those of us now alive. I wouldn’t think the great goal is to be the most famous of the generations, but of having a positive and far-reaching impact. To conclude, a future epithet for Generation Y:

They were lovers, dreamers, teaching to seek,
Connections, unity, freedom to speak.
Of all sharing a home where peace was kept,
With love and kindness, for none were except.
Learning, striving, for things beyond their reach,
Patience, fortitude, were ascribed to each.
Their laurels, our advancement, now they rest,
Promise the future that all may live best.

To my Gen Y compatriots: How can we find ways of embodying these words? — When told we can’t move forward, ask: “Why not?”

He Kindly Stopped For Me

We laid my uncle to rest today. As I continue to consider deeper questions on life and existence, I am brought back to reality by the spring air and flowers dancing in the breeze. For life in the North East, the return of spring heralds much promise. And though sadness is upon my family, the joy of such renewal reminds us that the bitterness of cold, or the decline of health, does not last forever.

The thoughts in my mind turned to matters of faith today. For some, faith/religion can become such divisive issues, that to even mention the most subtle hint of discussion stirs great controversy. If I mark the trend in Millennials, that many do not ascribe to being members of an organized religion, perhaps I would be best to avoid any mention thereof. — Fair warning, I think meaningful and hot-button issues don’t require boxing gloves, rather a comfortable table with calm, respectable, and tactful discussion.

Just because someone does not believe, act, or worship a certain way, does not mean that they are without faith or having belief in something. I am a bridge builder, and it is not my place to say what is the supreme and unequivocal answer to everything. Also, I don’t believe anyone alive today can honestly say they know the answer. To do so would have people fighting over the answer as they have done for ages. I’d like to think Gen Y is ok with forgoing proving points and claiming who has the answer in favor of finding the right questions:

“Why do people suffer?”

“What can I do to help?”

“Where am I needed most?”

Representing such diverse visions, I can only say what I feel shows respect to those whom I seek to represent. I know that I know not. I seek knowledge, and I live according to the faith that I have developed through my life. And the only certainty I have is to live with love. Measure life with love. Judge your actions by love and the love they bring into the world. Beyond this, I think people will find their own expressions and beliefs; perhaps love will have the strength and care to cradle all the beliefs together.

Millennials have come into a world that has more information available than any point previous and it suits our nature as learners. By keeping our minds open we allow growth, and by being people of love, no one needs fear persecution. Science and faith will find ways to coexist, and respect and tact will grow connections in the face of different perspectives. Our greatest challenge will be to remember to love, even during the hardest moments. Forgiveness and mercy bring healing, and love is the thing that carries it all. Don’t let certainty of fact make you immune to an open heart and open mind. Remember that the Earth was most certainly flat and the center of the universe at one time.

In closing, and because creativity helps in times of sadness; here are some stanzas inspired by Emily Dickinson’s poem on meeting death:

Because I could not stop for death
He kindly stopped for me
And drew about his cloak of silk
The veil eternity

“Good friend” said he in somber tone,
“Your hour is now at hand.”
“So come and go with me,” he said,
“To that far distant land.”

“But think you that it early yet,
for my departure now?”
“I’ve things undone,” I pleaded there,
“To stay, I pray allow.”

“No mortal flesh can linger long;
Souls shed weight they carry.
 Away we must to myst’ries all,
Rise dear one, don’t tarry.”

The hand out-stretched as one to guide;
Intention he made clear.
One journey through, and one to start;
There was no cause to fear.

I followed leaving all behind,
 Of trials ev’rywhere.
Unburdened from life’s sinew hold,
And free of all my care.

The flowers waved in lilting form,
Winter’s hold was over.
Returned in whole the ring of time,
‘Midst fields full of clover.

Our time with limit someday ends;
We make our journey home.
 In peace and myst’ry long to dwell,
Eternal Heaven’s dome.

Post, Post-Script — Note to self: take a few extra moments to review work before posting for spelling, etc. even if the subject matter is multi-layered and interesting. Clear and correct posts are classy. Don’t let desire to share affect overall image. Haste makes waste.

Because I Could Not Stop for Death

The recent passing of my great uncle has left me thinking about the theme of life and its counterpart. For Generation Y, most of us are probably still healthy and living normally without intense focus or concern by necessity for our health. To those in our ranks who have passed from this world, you are missed, and we shall persevere in your memory.

My great uncle was a humble man, but it was his humility that made him a great man. My uncle was blind from a time in his 30s and lived to be 94. I can’t be certain if medical science could have changed things if he had received better care, but a combination of earlier childhood infection and later issues took his vision completely. Still, out of many people I knew, he could probably see more clearly than most. As a young child, I remember visiting him and my great aunt and being given attention like a person. I say this because children are sometimes preferred “seen and not heard,” but I was included in our family.

As I would later learn from my godfather, my uncle endured a life outside of normal person-hood when people would ask my aunt if my uncle wanted more food at a formal gathering while he was sitting at the same table. Only his eyes were affected, but his hearing, his heart, and his mind were fully active. It was from this experience that I think my uncle chose to open his heart, and be a better example for including those who are often excluded. Learning from my uncle, I think Gen Y should see that just because someone has a visible impairment, illness, or even an unseen health concern, it does not make them less of a person, make them incapable of strong ideas or emotions, or put them in a circle of exclusion. All people need love, and by working towards inclusion, we help everyone find a better balance in managing life, and whatever challenges they face.

Speaking medically for a moment, I have lost a few family members after some drawn-out illnesses. For Gen Y, it with our parents and grandparents that we are learning about end of life concerns, and seeing the resulting sandwich generation issue. I don’t want to denigrate any of the many wonderful, skilled, and dedicated medical professionals in our workforce, but the system has left much to be desired. In some ways with my aunt, who passed a few years back, as well as my uncle, we had to fight to get the care they needed. Seeing how this happened, I’m better prepared when I become the caregiver in the sandwich, but I am holding hope that things will change. More people are moving towards needing end of life care, and we should not ignore the need to reform the industry to handle the population growth.

My uncle slipped in and out of lucid thought as he neared the end, and to my knowledge, he was not in any great pain. The pain is felt by those left behind, and even harder when the person we love is still alive, but the spark of their life no longer registers in their words, or in their body. Now that he is at peace, those left behind will honor his legacy.

A few days ago, a man passed from this world. A man who loved others, sang his faith in service to his church, and could see more clearly than most. We cannot be certain of what is to follow this life on earth, but my uncle is not dead. He lives on in me, and his example of seeking a loving and inclusive world is the example I will try to carry all my days. To any living in sadness now, I offer my love, and life will continue. Life is a journey, often with struggles and hardship, but we grow better and stronger from all that we experience.

You’re In Urinetown

“Nothing like too much exposition to kill a show real bad. Or a rotten title — that can kill a show pretty good.”

This week I had the opportunity to see a production of “Urinetown the Musical” as directed by one of my dear friends with his high school students. With my own background in theater, and having the opportunity to see the original show, I was very impressed with the students. Not only did they portray their characters excellently in song and dance, but they really had a grasp about what the show meant. Full disclosure of course that while I kvell for their achievements, they are all still Gen Y members. The students may have come up after my time in school, but they are no less informed and adamant about protecting the environment and being aware of things discussed by the work.

But where are my manners? Without spoiling the plot I can tell those who don’t know the show that a 20 year drought has forced the rationing of water to the point that people have to pay to pee. There’s a love interest and plenty of humor, but the themes and topics are still unquestionably dark for a musical. It is a chilling realization for some as the show makes reference to 19th Century notable Thomas Malthus, an Anglican clergyman who wrote:

“The power of population is so superior to the power of the earth to produce subsistence for man, that premature death must in some shape or other visit the human race. The vices of mankind are active and able ministers of depopulation. They are the precursors in the great army of destruction, and often finish the dreadful work themselves. But should they fail in this war of extermination, sickly seasons, epidemics, pestilence, and plague advance in terrific array, and sweep off their thousands and tens of thousands. Should success be still incomplete, gigantic inevitable famine stalks in the rear, and with one mighty blow levels the population with the food of the world” —Malthus T.R. 1798. An essay on the principle of population. Chapter VII, p61

Malthus’ works underscore his belief that such turmoil for resources among the population was divinely ordained to spur more pious behavior by the public. We may not all see the same perspective on matters of faith and religion, but members of Generation Y seem to have a keen grasp on how the current societal systems may not serve everyone’s needs. Planning and working together is the only way to address shortfalls and problems faced by the people of Earth. Whether we like it or not, we are all down here, and if one of us suffers, there is a chance that we could be affected too.

“Urinetown” didn’t flush away the other dark points as the show covered how people can be manipulated by fear. In a topic that I’ll have to cover again in the future, fear is one of those things that everyone can relate to. If a person lives in fear of something, they can be controlled, and depending on who is wielding the instrument, there can be abusive use of fear. The power is manifest in Franklin D. Roosevelt’s words “The only thing we have to fear is: fear itself.” Seeing fear as something that is either unknown or unable to be changed by our actions allows us to guard against being controlled by fear.

This post also reminded me of an interview that CBC radio’s Jian Ghomeshi did with actor, Mandy Patinkin. Mr. Patinkin spoke of fear as being something he lived with, but in its reality, he embraced it until it lost its power. Consider something you fear desperately, and whatever it is, that you are living in close quarters at all times with this fear. Sooner or later, boredom may settle in, and fear will huddle in the corner because it has no more power. We come to know fear by being in the unknown, but with knowledge, nothing can keep us cowering.

Be brave. The world needs bravery in the face of fear. We need to protect the world, and our brothers and sisters. Accept what we cannot change, and fear will fade in the wake of our accomplishments.