Forward: Let’s Get On With It

| March-April 2009

The millennials, the people born between 1980 and 2001, got Barack Obama elected. They turned out in record numbers, and they registered untold numbers of other voters. They grew up with computers, cell phones, and the Internet. They experienced 9/11 together. They have met the dire doomsday warnings of Al Gore and others not with resignation or despair, but with a resounding “Yes, we can!”

Last November I spent a week in Järna, Sweden, teaching social entrepreneurship to 39 millennials from 18 countries. They were participating in an 11-month gap-year program called the International Youth Initiative Program (YIP).

Being with these millennials felt like hanging out in a troupe of Cirque du Soleil performers. They were gymnasts and acrobats, dancers and jugglers, musicians, singers, sculptors, painters, writers, and filmmakers. We sang to begin each class. During breaks each morning, a clutch of them jumped into the freezing Baltic Sea. They performed impromptu skits and practiced the Brazilian martial art capoeira. They cheerfully cleaned the classroom and dining room in work crews. Most shared a poem or song in their native language on open-mike night. They looked into each other’s eyes. They cried tears of sadness and joy. They felt and expressed their anger, frustration, and outrage at the state of the world.

One day I led them in a guided meditation devised by author Joanna Macy: “Imagine yourself 75 years from now, alone in a field of soft green grasses, blue sky, and a gurgling brook nearby. Environmental disaster has been averted and war put to an end. A little girl of 8 or 9 comes skipping across the meadow and comes up to you, asking, ‘Is it really true that the world almost died from war, disease, and pollution when you were young? How did you keep from worrying all the time? How did you and your friends find the strength to turn things around and save the world?’ ”

Their answers to the final question were touching and deep:

“My friends and I did it together.”