Saturday, August 30, 2008

What would Buddha do?

Whether we like it or not, admit it or not, religion (or some philosophical variant thereof) plays a role in political participation. At an extreme are social conservatives who have made it their mission to dictate our lives by infecting every branch of government with agents that would change and override our laws. Another extreme are those who would have nothing to do at all with politics.

At a dinner party during the week of the Democratic Convention, conversation predictably turned into commentary and debate. A heated discussion over Clinton and Obama ensued among those at the table, except for a guest who quietly chewed on his specially prepared vegetarian fare. The host, not hearing a peep from the man, asked him what he thought.

"I don't get involved in politics," he proclaimed, "it distresses me." A self-taught Buddhist, he was making a point about how he transcended it all. A bit familiar with Buddhism myself, I reminded him about a central tenet of the philosophy that we are all interconnected and hence have a responsibility to each other. Gautama himself, after reaching enlightenment, chose to live among his ignorant contemporaries that they might be enlightened. As such, while political engagement might disturb his precious peace, there is a moral imperative to act and get involved - policies affect our daily lives.

"I don't need people," he coolly replied. When I pointed out that he would not be relishing the organic mozzarella, tomato and basil sprinkled with extra virgin olive oil sandwich nor the spinach and pea soup before him were it not for the farmers, bakers, truckers, and shopkeepers, he confidently announced that "I will survive without people, I will find something to eat, I am sure of this."

At this point, the host interjected, wanting to save the self-contained and -sustained man from himself. She rightfully argued that there are many ways of being involved and tried to remember a quotation about how there has to be peaceful people in order to have true peace in the world. While I agreed with her, I countered that prayer or enlightenment ought to lead to action. Sure, Jesus retreated on occasion but he always returned to preach, heal, turn over the moneychangers' tables and get crucified. Boddhisatvas, enlightened beings or Buddhas, choose to stay or return to our world to help all beings. Prophets of the old testament worshipped Yahweh while being gadflies to kings. Muhammad preached compassion and mercy.

Unperturbed, the man reiterated that he doesn't care. "Republican or Democrat, it doesn't affect me." Easy to say for a government scientist who lives in Georgetown. Another guest then said, okay, but what about other people who are adversely affected by policies instituted by Republican and Democrats?

"I don't care ... if someone was dying next to me, it wouldn't affect me ... would I give my life for another person? Frankly, no. I don't care." Clearly.

Now that is extreme.

Image of Buddhist monks protesting (Myanmar).

Thursday, August 28, 2008

What if Michael Phelps came out?

What if Michael Phelps came out? Came out as an American who believes in what is right, just and good? This occurred to me while watching his interview in a morning television show. What a potent spokesperson he would be for bringing back economic stability, shared prosperity, equal opportunity, basic human rights, pride and respect to our country. His story - a son of a single mother, a person who worked day in and day out for a dream, a young man who shares his success and inspires the next generation - would remind us of what is still possible if we were to come together for change.

And what if all gay women and men came out? What if the estimated 18 to 40 million lesbian, gay bisexual & transgender women and men stood up and told their families, friends, neighbors and coworkers that they are the same people they know and love but are now free and proud? How could our reality and human rights be denied any more? If enlisted women and men, military leaders, elected officials, farmers, athletes, Wall Streeters, celebrities, blue collar workers, community leaders, journalists, pastors, priests, rabbis and imams - if all who happen to be gay took the risk and demanded for what is right, then there would be profound change.

Now what if all parents, family members, friends and coworkers of gay people came out? Came out that they are proud of their sons and daughters, sisters and brothers, friends and colleagues? By casting out shame instilled by ignorance and fear, they too would be set free. If hundreds of millions of straight people told their elected officials, religious leaders and communities that they would no longer stand for the bigotry, hatred and injustice their loved ones suffer, there would be rightful change.

What if we all came out for what is right, just and good?

Image from Crossroads Dispatches.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Democratic Impressions

While some of us would like to think that we know presidential candidates personally, the reality is we don't. What we have are impressions about their person and character as well as ideas about what they stand for and could achieve. Among the only things we can claim as facts are basic biographic details, rehashed anecdotes, and perhaps even bills sponsored (but how many of us can honestly say we keep track of legislation?).

Impressions solidify through time as people see, hear and think more about a politician and her actions. Some Americans have the impression that McCain can get cantankerous but is nonetheless a patriot and a maverick. Others have the impression that Bill Clinton is slick but was able to set the economy right. There are those like myself who think that Hillary, while not warm and fuzzy, is a hard-working and experienced person.

What about Barack Obama? Undeniably he has made a very strong and positive impression on millions of Americans, but the novelty of this first impression has faded. And it has become apparent that we "know" him not. He seems like an intelligent man with values and aspirations most of us appreciate. But with a little than over two months to go, a whole lot of Democrats and Independents still ask who he is. Too many people, too many voters, do not have a solid enough impression of the man.

Let me make it clear: I passionately believe that it is time for change. It is time to put government back into Democratic stewardship. It is time to reclaim the values that bind us together. It is time to clean up the mess created by the present administration and set things right again.

But I am anxious. I am concerned that it might be too late to change impressions.


Sunday, August 24, 2008

Minority Coalition

At the end of Mautner Project’s gala last year, the mistress of ceremonies exhorted those present to go out hand in hand and change the world. She meant for lesbians, gays, African Americans, Asians, Latinos and other minorities to help each other gain their rightful place in society. It was a forum tailored to her message. That evening, Mautner Project, a national health organization catering to lesbians, bisexual and transgender women and their families, had honored the first openly gay congresswoman; one of the first Black female medical graduates; and a trans woman volunteer. The audience was mostly female, but there were a handful of gay men and straight allies.

Her appeal makes common sense. If minority groups worked together for what they all desire and deserve, namely equality, then things would change. After all, a third of Americans are of color and by mid-century, more than half (CNN, 2008). Estimates for the percentage of lesbian, gay, bisexual & transgender (LGBT) Americans range from 5 to 11 percent.

Sadly, the disparate groups rarely come together.

A friend gave an example (albeit an English one). Recently, a band of male clergy released an open letter to their leaders, lamenting movement towards the ordination of female bishops. Simply, they do not see women as their equal and refuse to fall under the authority of a she-bishop.

What leaves me indignant is not the institutional misogyny which is to be expected, but the hypocrisy and bigotry of some signatories, two I personally know. The young men with whom I am familiar are gay, as are other priests and bishops who signed the letter. Like other upstanding presbyters, they are not celibate just discrete. Rather than support women and in the process make the church more open to all including homosexuals like themselves, they choose to be complicit in maintaining inequity and injustice. In the United States, gay priests and bishops opt to stay within the comforts and privilege of their closets rather than challenge the status quo and labor against discrimination.

Within the LGBT community, conflict has always been an undercurrent. The trans woman honored at the gala had told me of the rift between some lesbians and transgendered individuals. Apparently, there are those born biologically correct who do not appreciate the appropriation of female identity by those who transition. Among transgendered people themselves, there is a divide among race and class. Studies by the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force in turn reveal the tension between White gays and gays of color, as well as among LGBT African Americans, Asians and Latinos.

Though the LGBT movement is part of the larger struggle for equality and freedom in the United States, some African Americans cringe whenever the LGBT fight is likened to their own. A Washington Blade article gives an example. Rev. Jesse Lee Peterson “considers some former leaders of the civil rights movement — including Congressman John Lewis of Atlanta and Coretta Scott King, Martin Luther King Jr.’s widow — ‘a disgrace to blacks, whites and Jews who died [during that time]’” for drawing comparisons between Black people’s fight for social and economic justice and gay people’s fight for social and economic justice. Peterson is disgusted.

There is nothing new to all this and it is understandable why minorities rarely collaborate. They find little in common with the next group, have their own interests to promote and see others as competition or obstacles. Moreover, some are less disadvantaged than others. A few even delude themselves, believing that they are truly accepted by those in power or that they can somehow, miraculously, “make change from within” (it amazes me how lesbians and gays remain within institutions and parties that clearly do not welcome them). And there are those who are scared of change and progress, even when it is painfully apparent that they stand to benefit.

At the end of the day we all want the same thing – equality. But we need each other. Until each and every minority – lesbian, gay, transgendered, African American, Asian, Latino – is guaranteed equality, dignity and freedom, it makes all the sense to reach out and work together.

Image: Detail of float from San Jose Parade of Floats

Thursday, August 14, 2008


Upon opening this site for the first time, my childhood chum exclaimed – whoa, text heavy! This is hardly surprising, coming from George who is a creative director and visual by nature. I suspect however that a host of others plugged into Web 2.0 and its requisite gadgets also find my blog more of a slog – like, where are the streaming videos? There simply are too many words! Where are the distractions?

In a recent issue of Atlantic magazine, Nicholas Carr examines what the Internet is doing to our brains. In “Is Google Making Us Stupid? “ he describes troubling symptoms:

Over the past few years I’ve had an uncomfortable sense that someone, or something, has been tinkering with my brain, remapping the neural circuitry, reprogramming the memory. My mind isn’t going—so far as I can tell—but it’s changing. I’m not thinking the way I used to think. I can feel it most strongly when I’m reading. Immersing myself in a book or a lengthy article used to be easy. My mind would get caught up in the narrative or the turns of the argument, and I’d spend hours strolling through long stretches of prose. That’s rarely the case anymore. Now my concentration often starts to drift after two or three pages. I get fidgety, lose the thread, begin looking for something else to do. I feel as if I’m always dragging my wayward brain back to the text. The deep reading that used to come naturally has become a struggle.

Because of the way information pops, scrolls, flashes and links through pages of text, pics, videos and sound in the Internet, we are easily distracted. Let us try reading about the Russian-Georgian conflict on NY Times online.

Peace Plan Offers Russia a Rationale to AdvanceTBILISI, Georgia … click … Georgia emerged from breakup of the Soviet Union divided by its own separatist conflicts and afflicted with corruption and poverty. It has transformed in recent years into one of the more democratic countries in the region thanks largely to reforms by the government of President Mikheil Saakashvili …didn’t he study and live in the US? Let’s google him … good ole Wikipedia … Mikheil Nik'olozis dze Saakashvili (Georgian: მიხეილ ნიკოლოზის ძე სააკაშვილი) (born December 21, 1967) … scroll … aha! … receiving a fellowship from the United States State DepartmentColumbia Law School ... 1994 andclassesThe George Washington University Law School … that’s a great inaugural pic ... where am I?

Thus am I not surprised if only one or two of those who stumbled on this post got this far.

While a hundred words or less can describe how one feels today, thinks about Edwards’ philandering during his wife’s cancer remission, a find on Ebay, and even a profound thought, it is not enough to truly examine, understand and analyze anything or anyone. Post Soviet geopolitics requires many more words. Tackling substantive matters requires the thick description of Geertz – going beyond simple description and digging deep into detail and context.

So for the faint of heart, all this text might not be for you. Then again, you’ve long moved on, haven’t you?

Image: Words are Sweet Sounds for Objects Unreal, Justin Simoni, 2004

Monday, August 11, 2008

Safe Spaces

A friend asked whether my partner and I had been to a certain bar/restaurant in DC – one of those venerable gay hang-outs. I answered that we have been, then generously added that I think the place to be too claustrophobic, too familiar (with anyone or anything that walks in), too campy (particularly the straight waiter who’s been there for decades), too lecherous … in other words, too old school gay. Our buddy, who is in his mid-forties gave me an indulgent smile and agreed, yes, the men can get rather friendly and frisky. And yes, it is very gay. However, he likes going there for the very same reasons I am repulsed. He offered as an explanation the fact that he had come out later in life, having been in the Air Force and a Texan police force. Moreover, he is high up in a government department that would not be happy to learn that he is cohabiting with another man.

This exchange made me realize that there is still need for places and spaces where homosexual and trans women and men can congregate, be fully themselves and feel safe. The 2000 U.S. census might have confirmed that there are gay folk in every county, but discrimination and intimidation remain rife.

In New York, I knew of highly competent women and men who kept their partners on the down low as they worked for the more powerful financial and law firms in Manhattan. In Washington, I have met individuals who feel constrained from expressing their orientation for fear of losing their jobs in the military, Homeland Security, Treasury and the like. An issue of Hofstra Labor and Employment Law Journal reports that since 1993, over 10,000 service members have been discharged from every branch of the Armed Forces.

In most churches, LGBT people have no place at the table. The Roman Catholic Church which has become the largest Christian denomination in the United States with over 75 million adherents, opposes the social acceptance of homosexuality, same-sex relationships and obviously, gay marriage ( A majority of Evangelical, Protestant and Mormon congregations likewise shun openly gay persons and their families.

Among LGBT African Americans, alienation is especially painful as the Black Church is the heart of the Black community. Sadly, Black Protestants lag behind other Protestant groups in recognizing gay people. The Washington Post cites a study by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life that show African American Protestants as far less likely than other Protestant groups to believe that gays should have equal rights.

Where can we go then? While I might find my friend’s favorite hang-out as “too gay,” it is a place where homosexual and trans women and men can be together. Like many other LGBT bars, clubs, restaurants and centers, it serves as a safe space for those seeking refuge and respite from the daily bigotry they endure.

I have been lucky. Since coming out, I have lived in New York City and now Washington, DC. I have worked in companies and nonprofits that do not discriminate against my kind. I have found churches in Manhattan and the District that embrace all people. Thus can I easily dismiss good ole Annie’s.

Image: At the Moulin Rouge, Two women waltzing, Toulouse-Lautrec, 1892

Responses to Rhythm Method

Al M., a retired doctor & politician emailed:
I enjoyed your blog. The basic flaw in the official Catholic line is: the primary purpose of marriage is procreation. What then is the motivation of older persons getting married, or handicapped individuals? I still think the main reason for getting married is a commitment to a loving relationship. Keep up your fine work.
Pat V., a married professional emailed:
As a person who is on the pill and who does not have any plans of procreating, I am quite shocked at how things haven’t changed back home. I didn’t know the statistics kasi. I guess it’s hard when people believe that the more kids you have, the more “grasya” you’ll get...

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Response to Generation X

K.B. emailed this comment on Gen X:
The blog is very interesting, mainly because I've never given the whole idea a great deal of thought. Although I fall at the tail end of the "Generation X" category, my situation was rather different than many of my fellow "X-ers." For instance, my family's pretty conservative and my mom quit a wonderful job to stay at home and raise my brother and me. My parents are also still together--not divorced. But I think that these reasons are not societal but religious in nature, my parents being hard-core Roman Catholics. That's an interesting group to survey: those in Generation X whose specific upbringing was governed largely by religious ideas and not so much those of society at large and the "real" world outside of denominational fairy-tale land, which is what the Romans have essentially created. I also recall feeling somewhat different from many of my peers growing up because my parents adhered so closely to certain religious beliefs. Not entirely a bad thing, but it's interesting in how it relates to this discussion. I don't think I'm a typical Generation X person.

Friday, August 08, 2008

Rhythm Method, Out of Sync

Over coffee, a childhood buddy told me why his organization turned down a substantial grant from a Pharmaceutical company. He belongs to a Filipino Roman Catholic lay community that has branched out into building homes for impoverished countrymen. They declined money that could have provided shelter for dozens of families because the Pharma manufactured abortion pills. This ran contrary to the Roman Catholic stance against contraception.

This brought to mind a battle waged by a former Philippine president against omnipotent bishops.

Fidel Ramos was elected president in 1992 and one of his priorities was to improve his fellow Filipinos’ economic lot. He knew that integral to promoting prosperity was curbing population growth. At this time, annual population growth was 2.3 %, the average family had 5 children and agricultural growth was only 1 %. (Asiaweek in National Center for Biotechnology Information Database).

With a total land area roughly the size of Italy divvied up into 7,107 islands, the Philippines was a pretty crowded place with a density of 202 persons per square kilometer and growing. The population was expected to swell to 75 million by the turn of the century. Such rapid growth coupled with gross inequity left millions vulnerable, especially women and children. And in fast bourgeoning urban areas, unemployment was on the rise due to the migration of struggling rural folk. It was pretty obvious that overpopulation had to be addressed (Integration in NCBI Database).

Ramos sought to solve the problem by promoting family planning policies that encouraged the use of contraceptives as well as the only RC-sanctioned birth control means, the rhythm method. Family planning funding was increased five-fold, with the number of social workers multiplying from 200 to 8000.

However in 1994, the largest protest since the 1986 “People Power” uprising was led by Cardinal Sin and former president Corazon Aquino to stop Ramos’ efforts. The crowd protested the "cultural dictatorship," which promoted abortion, homosexuality, lesbianism, sexual perversion, condoms, and artificial contraception. The movement also criticized an 85 page draft action plan for the International Conference on Population and Development scheduled for later that year. Cardinal Sin even accused President Clinton of promoting worldwide abortion (Asiaweek in NCBI Database).

Ramos, the only non-Roman Catholic president of the Republic, had challenged the Church's positions on contraception and abortion. He faced Goliath. In a state that was 85% Roman Catholic, the bishops controlled the masses and government. It is ironic that less than a decade earlier, Ramos and Sin had been allies in overthrowing the Marcos regime.

It turns out that the debate continues. ABS-CBN New Online reports that just a week ago, Ramos

… lashed out at President Arroyo for her government's supposedly ineffective family planning program.

Speaking during the World Population Day forum in Mandaluyong City Friday, Ramos said Mrs. Arroyo's "ambiguousness" and her alleged subservience to the Catholic church have restrained the implementation of an effective family planning program in the country.

Ramos pointed out that as fuel and food costs climb precipitously and mass poverty worsens, the population problem issue must be addressed by those in power. He was quoted as remarking that

…to ease poverty incidence and sustain economic growth, most countries must now undertake a closely inter-related cluster of policy reforms, and population moderation must be one such crucial policy.

Sadly, Philippine leaders kowtow to the princes of Rome.

Since Ramos’ term, the Philippine population has exploded to a staggering 88.6 million, one of the highest in the world. The small country is projected to have 100 million citizens by 2015. The National Statistical Coordination Board reports that in 2006, poverty incidence for families increased to 26.9%. The same year, a third of Filipinos lived below the poverty line. Fifteen percent – over 13 million people - live on less than a dollar a day (United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific). explains why the Philippine bishops and the Roman Catholic Church condemns the use of contraception that could easily lift millions upon millions of hungry and poor individuals out of misery worldwide:

Contraception is wrong because it’s a deliberate violation of the design God built into the human race, often referred to as "natural law." The natural law purpose of sex is procreation. The pleasure that sexual intercourse provides is an additional blessing from God, intended to offer the possibility of new life while strengthening the bond of intimacy, respect, and love between husband and wife. The loving environment this bond creates is the perfect setting for nurturing children.

But sexual pleasure within marriage becomes unnatural, and even harmful to the spouses, when it is used in a way that deliberately excludes the basic purpose of sex, which is procreation. God’s gift of the sex act, along with its pleasure and intimacy, must not be abused by deliberately frustrating its natural end—procreation.

Is it natural at all to allow hundreds of millions of children to be born into lives of poverty and deprivation? Into lives with little hope and no future?

Photo by Jan Pleiter

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Generation X

While exchanging comments on Millennials (see comments on post below), Valerie gave an assessment of the preceding generation:

Gen X didn't so much become cynical but was cynical from the get go. One can hypothesize as why, but I can see a few things: Nixon, the effects of Vietnam on their Dads and Uncles, Jimmy Carter telling us to put a sweater on, Ronald Reagan, the 1980 Olympic Boycott, Mortgage rates in the double digits, the Cold War, recession, the space shuttle blowing up before our eyes (at school, no less!) No wonder we are the Generation that invented grunge.
This inspired me to look into what has been said about us.

The first reported use of “Generation X” was in a 1952 issue of Holiday. In that instance, the author was actually referring to youngsters from the 1930s and 1940s. It was Charles Hamblett and Jane Deverson’s 1964 novel Generation X that began describing the cohort that would come of age at end of the last century. Douglas Coupland popularized the label in Generation X: Tales for an Accelerated Culture. In his book, Coupland narrates the lives of three friends who try to escape commercialization by retreating to California’s Mojave Desert.

While Coupland was clear that he meant to reflect the diversity of this age group, “Generation X” as with any other appellation has ossified to describe a segment of society. In reporting about Gen X at the workplace, Deloitte includes Americans born between 1961 and 1981 who experienced key societal trends. It was a period marked by the highest divorce and abortion rates; the highest dual incomes; and the most permissive parenting habits. It was also one of the most blatantly anti-child phases in history - children were deemed intrusive obstacles to their parents' self-exploration and were for the most part, left unsupervised.

A related report claims that Gen X-ers come from single-parent or blended families; were “latchkey kids”; experienced increasingly flexible gender roles; and feel overshadowed by—and alienated from—the huge Baby Boomer generation. They also sensed a breakdown of authority.

Undoubtedly, the MTV generation (a.k.a. Gen X) survived pretty tumultuous times. They witnessed Glasnost, the fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of the Soviet Union. They began to doubt government, thanks to Watergate and Ollie North. They were caught in Reaganomics and the Wall Street frenzy. They were taught “greed is good.” They suffered cutbacks in funding for social programs and education. They were traumatized by the Iranian hostage crisis, the Challenger tragedy, Tiananmen Square and the outbreak of AIDs. They were made to feel vulnerable by Ryan White’s stigma. They were the first kids to use computers, get hooked on video games and explore the World Wide Web. They were enthralled by MTV and Punk rock.

As such Gen X-ers are described as skeptical, pragmatic, adaptable, self reliant, informal, and technoliterate. They also tend to uphold diversity and think globally. They seek balance between work, family and play.

Now one has to be careful about generalizations (as few pointed out on the Millennials post). I know of Gen X-ers who come from solid families, whose parents are not divorced and were not consumed by the self-centeredness of the eighties and nineties. While these individuals were buffeted by the turbulence of the eighties and early nineties, their families and communities provided safe and nurturing spaces.

We cannot choose or control many things, such as families into which we are born and the times in which we grow up. We are molded by our background and influenced by past experiences. However, we do have a choice about how we think and act in the present. And ultimately about who we want to be.

A last word on Millennials

From Caroline B. in New York:
so i read your blog. i understand that you want something more challenging. please. become a nurse. we are short staff and run around all over the place all the time. we sometimes get a break and we sometimes dont. sometimes you get to eat and sometimes you won't. you could work at wonderful times like me from 7:30 pm until 7:30 am.

but i agree on having a job that's challenging. if a job doesn't challenge your mind and make you learn from your new experience than it isn't probably worth it. having a laid back job is cool...but will get boring after a while. you need a job that keeps you busy.

peeps of my generation are just plain lazy. it's funny cause when you go to the city, everybody think they somebody. everybody wants to have a job that they don't have to do much and make a lot of money. oh yeah, and everyone wanna be famous. one of carlos' co-workers was complaining to him that just cause he's a supervisor and works 9-5 that he should be making $90,000. Get a grip dude.

Monday, August 04, 2008

One more for Millennials

A Millennial in Los Angeles emailed:

just had a read through and particularly agreed with your bit about millennials expecting more from their employers than any previous generation. it's hard for me to explain without sounding completely robotic but i did start this summer internship (at a FTSE 100, globally recognised, 200+ year old asset management house) with a real drive to work hard every day and put in 110%, all that - and was sorely disappointed by the number of people who worked strictly 9 to 5 and then had lives outside of the office, whose lives weren't their be-all and end-all. my perspective might be (let's be real, probably is) skewed by the fact that i worked at the large american investment bank citigroup last summer, where that was a lifestyle - but i think it's telling that the average age at citi was a good ten years younger than that of my current employer. i've learned to appreciate the more relaxed style, so to speak, of this firm, but i do have to say that i do wish things were more challenging, and that i did have a reason to put in "my all"...if that makes any sense whatsoever!!

Sunday, August 03, 2008

In response to Millennials - they're not all that!

Andrew K. comments on the previous post:

We could always be curmudgeonly together? I have no doubt that there is going to be something very problematic that eventually comes out of this generation's sense of entitlement... these are the kids whose parents put them in t-ball leagues where they didn't keep score, or who grew up hearing that it didn't matter if they succeeded or not, as long as they had tried. There was actually a great piece on 60 Minutes within the last year about this generation in the workplace: one notable vignette involved a parent calling their child's workplace to complain about his quarterly review. "I don't think this review reflects an adequate appreciation for all that my Johnny is capable of doing." AH!

What really interests me is when this generation, if it is to be defined by these largely negative qualities, really begins. Of course such delineation is going to be fluid, but I have observed a great difference between my childhood experience and that of my good friends, on the one hand, and, on the other, the experiences of my little brother's friends. I think I would have to place the "terminus a quo" somewhere in between.

It must be very soon after me, though, and there are a few things that make me think that. The difference between my class and the following class at Dartmouth is a great example. It was a member of the class of 2007 -- what an honor this is -- who was the first person at Dartmouth to have his parents call a professor (and then, when the professor was not responsive, the academic dean) to insist that his grade be changed. As though the grade inflation that exists weren't enough.

Ah, well, I guess we won't see the effects of it until -- shudder -- these people are in positions of authority.

All best,
Facebook email, August 3, 2008.

Friday, August 01, 2008

Millennials – they’re not all that!

A publisher of a local paper complained about one of her younger employees, a newly minted journalism major. The young man had an entitled air about him belied by an annoying up-tone he shares, sadly, with far too many women and men who are no longer teenagers or from the Valley (an up-tone is a rise in pitch at the end of a sentence or phrase, which makes an utterance sound like a question). Moreover, he was not particularly productive or punctual except when it came time to collect his pay. “He barges into my office, demands his check and announces that he’s taking a few days off,” fumed the publisher. She wanted to respond, “and what have you done for me lately?”

The young man is a Millennial, someone born roughly between 1980 and 1994. Millennials are also referred to as the YouTube Generation, the Internet Generation or the lesser known Echo Boomers.

Claire Raines, author and expert on intergenerational workplace dynamics, describe them as such:

They’re the hottest commodity on the job market since Rosie the Riveter. They’re sociable, optimistic, talented, well-educated, collaborative, open-minded, influential, and achievement-oriented. They’ve always felt sought after, needed, indispensable. They are arriving in the workplace with higher expectations than any generation before them—and they’re so well connected that, if an employer doesn’t match those expectations, they can tell thousands of their cohorts with one click of the mouse.
Raines attributes their collective personality to experiences peculiar to their generation. She identifies eight key trends which started from the 1990s and continues to the present. These are: (1) Re-focus on children and family; (2) Scheduled, structured lives; (3) Multiculturalism; (4) Terrorism, local and global; (5) Heroism; (5) Patriotism; (6) Parent advocacy; (7) Globalism; and (8) Compelling messages.

Among these trends, parental advocacy and messages have most to do with who they are. Raines explains:

The Millennials were raised, by and large, by active, involved parents who often interceded on their behalf. Protective Boomer and Xer parents tried to ensure their children would grow up safely and be treated well. Parents challenged poor grades, negotiated with the soccer coach, visited college campuses with their charges, and even went along to Army recruiting centers.

Their parents have thus been labeled “helicopter parents,” constantly hovering overhead to make sure their progeny is protected, endorsed and advanced, whether the children like it or not, and deserve it or not. This behavior persists through the kids' early adulthood. Wikipedia offers an extension of the term - "Black Hawks" - for parents who cross the line to unethical behavior such as writing their children's college admission essays.

Such dysfunctional behavior is compounded by overly positive and sometimes unrealistic messages drilled into children’s heads. Raines lists the following: “Be smart—you are special.” “Leave no one behind.” “Connect 24/7.” “Achieve now!” You are unique and talented and very special and should be adored by everyone. Are we surprised then by the insane number of Americans who believe that they can be the next Idol or think that they can dance?

A psychologist friend of mine adds her own theory (and concern) that cell phones, email, blackberries, texting and social networking sites have not only reattached the umbilical cord (and given it super tensile strength) but have also spawned codependent connections among the Millennials themselves.

But is this all simply another generation gap?

Surely Baby Boomers complained about Generation X. And Baby Boomers heard their parents say, “when I was your age …”

My own experience with Millennials has been rather positive.

While working at Human Rights Campaign, I was impressed by the passion of young women and men – gay, straight and questioning - for advocating equal rights. I was heartened by their comfort with diversity.

Slogging my way through Southern heat and humidity, I am frequently accosted by cheerful and energized youth asking whether I’d like to support Barack Obama. All over town, these future operatives are joined by teenagers in blue blazers and smart dresses interning on the Hill or at K Street, future politicos and lobbyists.

At Aspen Institute, I work and laugh with a Brown graduate, who intends to stay in the nonprofit sector. Walking the halls or typing at their desks are other twenty-somethings with impressive credentials analyzing policy issues in the middle of summer.

The other evening, I met a sophomore from Southwestern University who had decided to spend a couple of weeks at her aunt’s office, a Labor lobbying firm. Her younger brother is set to enter West Point this fall. And my partner’s own nephew will attend NC State College of Engineering to study robotics. Till then, he is life guarding and teaching kids how to swim.

Granted I live in Washington, work in the nonprofit sector, and somehow find myself surrounded by really intelligent and simply good folk, I nonetheless think that Millennials are okay. I am optimistic about the future precisely because of how this generation sees the world – as theirs to change and enjoy.

Now if we can only do something about the up-tone.

Illustration from