A New Connected Generation

Five Signs of the Coming Revolution

•The Resurgence of Citizens’ Movements
-Paul Hawken

•The Graying of America
-Gay Gaer Luce

•The Rising Challenge to Corporate Control of Our Lives
-David Korten

•Our Rediscovery of the World’s Mysteries
-James Redfield

• A New Connected Generation
-Margaret Wheatley

Join the revolution! Café Utne is hosting discussions with several of the visionary authors who contributed essays to Imagine. For a full schedule, go to www.utne.com/salon.aspx

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I am on Lake Powell in the southwest United States, drifting along the borders of Utah and Arizona, thinking about America’s next 50 years.

I am spending the week on a 54-foot houseboat with 13 boys between the ages of 15 and 20. Lest you doubt my sanity, know that I learned long ago that my teenage sons move as a clan, comfortable and happy only when they’re surrounded by friends. I am having a wonderful time tuning in to life as seen by strong, creative, young American men.

The future depends on our young men and young women. The America I am trying to imagine is really theirs to create. On the boat I ask a few of them what they imagine for the future.

This is what I hear them say: They want less hate. They fear for the planet. They want robots to do dull work. They want schools to stop being so awful. They expect pure (electronic) democracy. They want to stop violence. They want to stop being desensitized by the media to violence, suffering, warfare. They want to be loving, supportive parents. They want to stop taking America for granted.

As a group they are wonderfully American: Among them is one South African immigrant; one first-generation American with parents from Argentina and the Cherokee and Chickasaw nations; many of northern and southern European descent; one with Choctaw ancestors; and one descendant of Ulysses S. Grant. President Grant’s descendant has had a hard life and is in foster care; many, including my two sons, are children of divorce. They come from poor families as well as wealthy ones.

I can’t help but notice the special quality of their relationships. Instead of the macho behavior that many expect from young males, I see displays of support and concern. When one young man freezes on a cliff, paralyzed by vertigo, three others work patiently and lovingly to help him down. I am surprised by their sensitivity to human psychology, and their ability to use this awareness to explain one another’s motivationsññwhy any one of them is doing what he’s doing. They are far more skilled at this than many adults I know.

Most of these young men are embodiments of American optimism, but they do not seem driven by the same fierce nationalism that has plagued earlier generations, including mine. Many of us have (quite rightly) decried the loss of local cultures as the planet becomes Americanized, but when I see my sons talking so easily to other teens from Brazil or Zimbabwe or Europe, I realize something good has been happening as well. My generation talks about a networked, boundaryless world, but these kids, connected to others everywhere by music, movies, and sports, are living in it.

Are my boat companions a ‘normal’ group of teen-agers? I think they are, and I feel privileged to have been so close to them for six days. Here is what I want to say to them:

Thank you for not taking at face value what my generation has tried so hard to teach you–that the world is ruled by competition, that only the strong survive. We’ve failed to show you how to be wise stewards of the earth, how to care for one another, how to resolve conflicts peacefully, how to enjoy others’ creativity as well as your own. Despite our questionable guidance you seem to be figuring these things out for yourself, and that excites me.

I see how you delight in each other’s talents without feeling diminished, as if you know that diversity is the source of your collective strength. It’s an insight that no other American generation has so clearly reveled in. You walk away from disrespectful employers, boring work, uninteresting activities. As parents, we have been quick to criticize youññwe fear that you have no work ethic. But your refusal to conform and comply gives me hope, for it might save you from being diminished. I see you reclaiming the freedom and respect that every human spirit needs to flourish.

And now it’s your turn to take over the experiment of shaping human society. I believe your generation may help our species take its next evolutionary leap, toward a planetary community where all life can flourish and all people can know what it means to be fully human. The challenge before you will be to continue what you’ve already begun, weaving together the three great human strengths: our unique gifts, as expressed in creativity and diversity; our desire for community; and our need for individual freedom. No earlier generation has ever fully succeeded at this task, but we have left the chronicle of our experiences to help you. I pray you will be the ones.

Margaret Wheatley is president of the Berkana Institute, a charitable global foundation, and is the author ofLeadership and the New Scienceand (with Myron Kellner-Rogers) A Simpler Way. All essays reprinted from Imagine: What America Could Be in the 21st Century, edited by Marianne Williamson. Permission granted by Rodale, Emmaus, PA 18098. Available wherever books are sold or directly from the publisher by calling 800/848-4735 or visiting www.rodalestore.com

Join the revolution! Throughout November and December Cafe Utne will host discussions with several of the visionary authors who contributed essays to Imagine. For a full schedule, go to cafe.utne.com

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