Millennials yearn for community

By Contributor R. Skyler Oberst

R. Skyler Oberst

A few weeks ago I became enthralled by an article in the Wall Street Journal which highlighted the universality of community and shared meaning — values that are often fostered by religions. In the article, the author, Alain de Botton, writes about the loneliness of modern society and how, “we tend to imagine that there once existed a degree of neighborliness that has been replaced by ruthless anonymity, by the pursuit of contact with one another primarily for individualistic ends: for financial gain, social advancement or romantic love.” The article appeared around the same time The Pacific Northwest Inlander addressed the growing atheist community in the Pacific Northwest and their yearning for a community where they were accepted and loved unconditionally because of who they are — values that are often not fostered by religions.

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Flickr Photo by woordenaar

The world is becoming increasingly more close-knit, in part due to our economics and technology, and this has affected every part of our modern society, and especially how we view our values and the values of others. For young people like myself we live on the verge of a paradigm shift, which I believe will shape how we deal with values and how we will come to know ourselves.

This is not a new problem. Every generation has been left to define themselves and their intentions. The millennial generation has grown up scouring the Web for things we don’t understand, and we have had to learn to sift through the innumerable opinions purported to be truth. We are becoming isolated from one another by our individualities just as much as our opinion options. It’s not that we have different values from earlier generations, it’s that we have so many options at our fingertips. Plato once warned that the written word would bring forth the death of true meaningful dialogue. Judging by the loneliness of modern society, and the part the Internet has played, it is no wonder many millennials are choosing the well-trodden path by seeking the effervescence found in community, whether within the confines of the spiritual or the religious.

The quest for meaning and for spirit — values universal — are very much alive and well among the millennials; what makes us different are the methods by which we choose to address them. I don’t think the millennial generation has fundamentally different values from its predecessors. It is evident that we are all yearning for a sense of community and search for meaning of our existence. What makes the millennials different is our generation will be defined by how we use the tools of our time to cope with our option anxiety. Brought on by our times, we will have to decide whether this will usher us into community of lasting meaningful exchange, or confine us to a solitary existence. The questions every generation before us has had to answer, without the problem/benefit of a Google search.

 

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8 responses to “Millennials yearn for community

  1. Excellent post Skyler!

    I don’t qualify as a millennial (I’m too old, sigh), but I can definitely relate to what you’re saying. We can find everything we need through technology – scriptures, music, sermons and even community – but can that replace fellowship? It will be interesting to watch how your generation ends up balancing these two things as it defines itself…

  2. Skyler, I too found the Inlander article very interesting. I could totally relate to the search for acceptance and community, although I never lost a sense of God, and eventually found a spiritual community that I am deeply involved in. Maybe having so many options will help more people realize that their spirituality doesn’t need to be defined by traditional churches. Indeed, many congregations are struggling with the expense and upkeep of their buildings, and I wonder if “going to church” is going to look very different in ten to twenty years.

    I am (way) too old to be in your cohort, but I think all folks who use today’s technology have to ask themselves some serious questions about how they balance “virtual” with “face-to-face” relationships. When is technology a blessing, and when does it get in the way of our humanity? Whenever I read comments on an online political article, I am reminded of how awful people can be to each other when they don’t perceive a connection between them. Would they be so nasty and insulting if they were Skype-ing, or even if there was a photo of the writer next to each comment? I wonder how this is all going to evolve.

  3. Millennials all over the world are quite a lot more liberal than our forebears. I think it is because of the exposure to ideas and other people on a global scale that this happening. It’s like the liberalizing that happens with urbanization, but on an even larger scale.

  4. Thanks, Skyler — if you haven’t yet, listen/watch Alain de Botton at TED (http://www.ted.com/talks/alain_de_botton_atheism_2_0.html?quote=1282). Appreciate your perspective, though I am definitely too old! I’m curious about the depths of relationships formed within the millenials’ circles; what I see is a rapidly moving people who don’t “dig in for the long haul.”

    • Marj what I see is a generation of young people who move in and out of communities quite freely — joining, rejoining, and rejoining again communities several times over. We can do this because we stay in touch over social networks when not coming together for specific projects or other things they want to collectively make happen. At least, that’s my observation. Communities can be fluid because the social networks are stickier.

  5. Gracie Kiernan

    Fellow millennial, I completely agree with all you’re saying. However, at the risk of sounding like a cynic, I’m not sure there’s an option in which we don’t mess this technology thing up and isolate ourselves. Do you think we, as a species, are capable of that?

  6. Skyler, I enjoyed reading your post.
    It seems that we are indeed communal creatures. Our American culture is perhaps the most individualistic in the world which tends to move one away from community. In our modern society we seem to have moved away from knowing our neighbor and connecting with those around us to an individualistic way of existing. The loneliness you write about reminds me of the song “One is the loneliest number that you’ll ever do.” by Three Dog Night in 1969. This was their first gold record, it must have struck a chord within pop culture at that time about individualism being a lonely existence.

    Being alone and loneliness are not the same. In my opinion few people are comfortable with themselves. Our modern society has taught people how to be busy, how to focus or live in a future moment and not in the present moment. From Ram Dass’ book “Be Here Now” to Eckhart Tolle’s “The Power of Now” and Buddhist meditations on mindfulness as a practice of being in the moment all seem to point toward the rising yearning for getting in touch with our selves, with learning who we are and how to live with ourselves and ultimately with others in community.

    Atheist or religious, the yearning is the same. Hopefully a paradigm shift is happening. How to come to know ourselves is a profound journey. This is the journey of every human being. I believe that in modern society that journey is becoming more complex and perhaps more challenging. Our technology which could be tools for connecting us more and creating more communication, seems to be creating more stimulus but not necessarily more human connections.

    For me, the journey of life is about knowing myself, my deep true inner self, or as some may say my higher self. It is not about religion, it is not about pop culture, it is the journey of living life. Through knowing myself I can then know my neighbor and community comes alive.

  7. Skyler, have you read Jane McGonigal’s book “Reality is Broken”? I think you might find it quite informative.

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