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How can we help transform the self-absorbed "Me Generation" into the "We Generation"? More....

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A 3 Part Series: Also see Part I | Part II

Today’s narcissistic youth have been dubbed members of the “Me Generation.”  The top goals of Americans age 18-25 are fame and fortune.  (Source: Pew Research Center for the People.)  The popular press purports that we are facing an epidemic of status-seeking “superflagilistic, extra egotistic” Boomers and their Babies.  But selfishness is not a new concern.  In his column Beyond the Pews, Tim Vamosi quoted the Apostle Paul as saying more than 2000 years ago, “Look not to your interests only, but to the interests of others as well.”   

Heifer Project at First Congregational Church of Woodstock.  Photo by Elinor Donahue.
Each year children at the First Congregational Church of Woodstock raise money for Heifer Project. Photo of Lela Miller and Naomi of Fairvue Farms courtesy of Elinor Donahue.

How do people come to believe that the world revolves around them, that their needs and interests are more important than those of others?  How can we help them see themselves as part of something bigger like a society and an ecosystem?  How do we help them understand that they do not “own” the land, water, air and wildlife that reside on the planet, but instead have a responsibility to protect this public trust?  How can we help them recognize that their actions can make a difference in the world?

We probably need to get creative and try a variety of venues to engage the Me Generation to help them see their part in the “We.”  Families, schools and organizations can take advantage of the New Year to encourage taking time to pause and reflect on the past and how it has shaped our future.  As a result of the onslaught of technology, young people are spending less time thinking about their place in the world.  There are few gaps between play dates, school, sports and lessons.  Powers of observation may be dulled by external stimuli like television and video games. 

Limit TV time (average Americans in the 15-24 age group spend at least 2 hours per day watching TV), or encourage spending some of it watching thought-provoking shows on The Nature Channel, Discovery Channel or Animal Planet, or the Planet Earth series.  Watch a powerful movie about the nature (e.g., Winged Migration, Deep Blue, or an Inconvenient Truth).  Follow it with a family discussion – what did you find most surprising?  What did it make you think or feel?  What might you do differently as a result of what you saw or learned?

Reading about the ecosystem might help.  The average 15-20 year old spends only 7-10 minutes a day reading books, magazines, newspapers and online.  Declines in reading have civic and social implications.  Advanced readers enjoy personal, professional and social advantages.   (Source: National Endowment for the Arts, To Read or Not To Read: A Question of National Consequence, November 2007.)  There are plenty of interesting, educational books available.  Even small children can learn from books like The Giving Tree, the Lorax, or Project Panda.   

Field trips that demonstrate our personal stake in ecological, cultural or historic preservation can make a big impression.  A trip to a nature center, zoo or a farm tour can be both fun and educational.
Last week I wrote about the Bamberger ranch in Texas.  Each year they host thousands of students, landowners, scientists and conservation organizations.  The goal of those who work at Selah is “to change lives through education and examples so visitors will love, appreciate and protect Mother Nature in their own daily lives.”   

Experiencing and enjoying the outdoors at an early age can increase an appreciation for, and interest in the environment.  The Connecticut DEP’s initiative “No Child Left Inside” is designed to introduce youth to the outdoors.  Try hiking, biking, camping, birdwatching, letterboxing, geochaching, fishing or canoeing.

Last but not least, encourage volunteerism.  Join together to raise money for the Heifer Project, where families in developing countries are given a gift like a flock of ducks or a calf to enable them to sustain themselves.  Provide groups or classes examples or exercises that demonstrate opportunities we all have to influence the lives of others and the world around us.  As DEP Commissioner Gina McCarthy observed, “We can’t achieve our environmental agenda without individual action and responsibility.”   

A 3 Part Series: Part I | Part II
Originally published in the Villager newspapers on January 23, 2008

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