Growing up in the United States is a challenging task for any young person, regardless of religious, ethnic, or familial background. Making it through all the distractions of popular culture and material possessions fighting for the attention of the teenage mind is a daunting task these days, especially with the ‘always connected’ mindset so many of us live with. We live our days and nights glued to a screen, whether it be our smart phones, televisions, computers, tablets, or any of the other devices we own, we are connected to a constant stream of ‘updates.’ We live in a perpetual state of information overload, yet we sometimes lack the skills necessary to practically apply all this knowledge we are taking in. What we are in need of most in this day and time are leadership programs that prepare the eager and enthusiastic young people to be leaders of today and tomorrow. Young people have, for generations, been at the forefront of social movements, groundbreaking discoveries, and inspirational actions, so why should that change now?
If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader. – John Quincy Adams
I realize as I write this blog posting, many of my father’s generation have difficulty in trusting that the young people of today can carry on the legacy that our fathers have worked so hard to establish. It is true that we are categorized as “millennials” and we have a troubling narcissistic behavior about ourselves. Furthermore, it is true that we are the reality TV generation; we cannot sit through an entire college course without checking our phones, Facebook, or twitter feed, and we have this odd obsession with taking photos of ourselves, even in the most awkward situations. Our generation has challenges, this much is true, but which generation that preceded us can say that they left a mark of greatness without overcoming certain challenges? When thinking about the challenges of my generation, I am reminded of the words of Robert F. Kennedy, “Only those who dare to fail greatly can ever achieve greatly.” Our generation has it faults, and we will have our failures, but more than that, we are desperately seeking our opportunity through it all to achieve greatness.
To be fair, we must look at the positive contributions the young generation of emerging adults have brought to the table, and in the changing ways in which they contribute to society. Most recently, in the Oklahoma City and Tulsa areas, in the wake of devastating natural disasters, groups of young people mobilized to provide disaster aid through their local communities utilizing simple Facebook and twitter campaigns. Yes, it may be a rare sight that a young person may actually use their phone to hold a conversation, but these young people have polished the skills necessary to mobilize hundreds of individuals into action through technology, all without making a single phone call. Furthermore, CAIR Oklahoma’s Muslim Youth Leadership program has aided in the guidance and direction that many of these young people are looking for in the understanding of how they can utilize their skills, talents, and hobbies to give back to their community, state, and country. Alumni to this program have gone on to organize regular trips to volunteer at community food banks, provide meals for homeless, become educators in youth programs, and serve as positive role models for their peers.
So, yes, we have all that data about narcissism and laziness and entitlement. But a generation’s greatness isn’t determined by data; it’s determined by how they react to the challenges that befall them. And, just as important, by how we react to them. – Joel Stein
This generation that can at times be admittedly indolent, self-absorbed, and feel society owes them something, but this generation also has the ability to change the world for the better…isn’t it time we give them a chance?
Adam Soltani is the current Executive Director of CAIR Oklahoma and a long-time active member of the Oklahoma Muslim community having previously served as the director of youth services for the Islamic Society of Greater Oklahoma City.