Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
June 8, 2009
Youth exude hope as they dash to the future
The Emerging Millennials: How Canada's Newest Generation is Responding to Change and Choice, by Reginald Bibby. Project Canada Books: Lethbridge. Distributed by Project Canada Books, Wood Lake Books and Novalis. 2009. 233 pages.
REVIEW BY WAYNE HOLST
Decades ago when I registered as one of the first youth to attend university from my small southern Ontario community, my father offered this advice. "Get all the knowledge and experience you can, but the most important thing is that you get wisdom."
The same advice appears 50 years later in The Emerging Millennials, authored by well-known University of Lethbridge sociologist, Reginald Bibby. In a chapter on the media revolution of unprecedented magnitude that is inherited by today's teens, readers are reminded that there's never been so much information . . . but are we any wiser for it all?
WHERE IS THE WISDOM?
T.S. Eliot wrote in 1934 - "Where is the wisdom we have lost in knowledge? Where is the knowledge we have lost in information?"
The book provides helpful commentary on key findings of the study by Sarah Russell - writer, editor and RCMP community relations officer - and Ron Rolheiser - priest, seminary president and spiritual guide. No novice with studies like this, Bibby has been tracking the opinions, challenges, opportunities and choices of Canada's youth for 35 years.
Modern Canadians value freedom and choice, says Bibby, and our young people cherish those values as much as anyone. His ultimate question after assessing the offspring of the Boomer Generation is predictable: "But how are they going to turn out?"
His conclusion? They will turn out quite well, actually. Bibby discovered from his major new survey of more than 5,000 Canadian teenagers, including a special sample of aboriginal youth, that in a culture of diversity and relativity, uniformity of morals and guilt are unacceptable to the emerging generation.
On the surface, this would appear to mean that the personal values of the youngest generation are ambivalent and that everything for them is relative.
Not so, he discovered.
Many youth have been taught that in a diverse society which values freedom and choice, they must learn to think for themselves and to make responsible decisions about their own life values.
Intriguingly, it seems a matter of "back to the future, but with a twist." Traditional values such as honesty, integrity and hard work are all important to youth. At the same time they will not accept inherited wisdom uncritically. They insist on bringing their own unique interpretation to these values.
Consider their views on family. Traditional family values are hugely important, says the author. Sixty-seven per cent of those tested - the highest in 25 years since these questions were first asked - hold traditional aspirations.
MARRIAGE VS COHABITING
Seventy per cent want a good home like they grew up in. Most plan to marry and to have kids. Most expect their marriages to last. At the same time, most assume they would co-habit with someone they might not end up marrying.
"I'd like to stay with the same partner for life," said one respondent from B.C., "but I might not."
Teens seem more concerned about meaningful relationships, trust and honesty than their parents. They seem more committed to family building than career building.
The message seems to be: don't expect the young to be clones of their parents. At the same time, don't expect the young to reject their parents' views. What they want to be able to do is learn "with," not only "from," their parents.
Bibby and his associates suggest that the stage seems to be set for important inter-generational dialogue taking place.
Thoughtful, critical assessment and mutual, respectful dialogue is the desire expressed by young people through the entire study. The book contains chapters on friendship, sexuality, the difficulties of life, how our youth seem to be as much citizens of the world as of Canada, and the role of God and faith in their lives.
Fewer teens claim to believe in God, and even fewer in organized religion. The question "Can we be good without God?" is yet to be answered by them. Some would argue that a decline in belief in God inevitably leads to a breakdown in public and private morality; but that remains to be tested in the lives of today's youth.
WHAT REPLACES GOD?
Bibby ponders: What would replace God? What substitutes for the supernatural are there?
The book closes on a note of hope. "Hope is a signal of transcendence," says the author, and our young people have a great deal of concern for both. They are not afraid of the future, and that is most encouraging.
I concluded from my reading that this is not just a study about modern Canadian teens. It is a study about me and all of us. "To better understand the emerging millennials," says Bibby, "is to better understand ourselves."
I think that is the kind of timeless wisdom my father was talking about.
(Wayne A. Holst teaches religion and culture at the University of Calgary and coordinates adult spiritual development at St. David's United Church.)
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