Values

How to buck the millennial stereotype

Panel debates Martha Stewart's viewpoint

 

Millennials are widely criticized for their laziness, their sense of entitlement, lack of focus, self-centeredness, social-media obsession -- the list goes on and on.

But don't feel too defensive if you're between the ages of 18 and 34.

Millennials -- if one scratches the surface -- are often more eager to engage in service projects than baby boomers are, according to a 2013 survey. More millennials give to charities than their elders, the survey said.

On college campuses, of course, a diverse set of service clubs and organizations await eager freshmen. Emily Yeh, a rising senior at Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island, has a busy schedule: She's studying business at the Ivy League school and helps runs a student club, among other extracurricular activities. But like so many of her generation who are turning toward service, she finds time to volunteer for church activities throughout the school year.

"College is such a neat time in our lives," said Yeh. "It is four years where we can focus on discovering who we are and who we hope to become. I think this makes volunteering in college all the more valuable. It shapes us as people. It helps us to get in the habit of giving our time and energy to others, perhaps without receiving any tangible 'rewards' in return. I think the experience can give us an opportunity to receive the gift of true joy through serving others."

Others echoed the notion of finding joy in service.

Santi Ruiz, a rising second-year student at the University of Chicago, spent his first year tutoring a middle-schooler. When asked about the impact of volunteering and the time it took, he said, "It didn't feel like a time sacrifice because of the relationship I built with the seventh-grader ... It honestly felt like [I was helping] a friend with a project twice a week."

Ruiz is also a busy student. But neither of these two college kids is an anomaly on campus. As the 2015 Millennial Impact Report noted, "The majority of millennials engage in some kind of volunteer work."

Ellie Mueller, a recent graduate of the University of Minnesota, volunteered weekly at a women's shelter where she helped residents prepare for the GED. She said that nothing was more important to her as she spent time with the women.

"Taking my time and giving it to someone else made me realize this world is not all about me," Mueller said.

While some in older generations attempt to understand the millennial psyche with a kind of odd fascination, as in -- "What do they think about religion? How do they compare with their grandparents? What is a selfie?" -- most just slap on a general label, usually "lazy." For many millennials, they may not be far off the mark. But students like Yeh, Ruiz, and Mueller all contradict the stereotype.

Community service and volunteer work means more than just feeling good about oneself or even a sincere desire to alleviate suffering. It means ignoring one's own needs, even if it's just for a few hours a month, and substituting those needs for the needs of others. For Christians, service at its best is a way to serve Christ. As Matthew 25:40 says, "Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me."

Mother Theresa, one of the most popular religious figures in recent history and soon-to-be-saint (on Sept. 4), wrote, "Seeking the face of God in everything, everyone, all the time, and His hand in every happening; this is what it means to be contemplative in the heart of the world. Seeing and adoring the presence of Jesus, especially in the lowly appearance of bread, and in the distressing disguise of the poor."

On the eve of her canonization, "the angel of the slums" is an ideal model for millennial lives as young people turn away from the self-gratification suggested and demonstrated by today's culture.

As Mueller said, "In this society and this culture, it is easy to get wrapped up in ourselves -- but for those two hours every Thursday, giving up my time made me realize that it wasn't mine in the beginning."