As I walked down the aisle of the plane, I saw in the seat next to mine an amiable young fellow—a real live millennial. I was intrigued by the opportunity to talk.
Don’t get me wrong, plenty of millennial-age young people cross my path. Most of them don’t make a big deal about their “millennialness.”
This particular fellow, however, was the real thing. He self-identified as a millennial in our first introduction. Thankfully he self-identified as something he actually is and not that which he imagines himself to be. We at least had the foundation for some kind of rational discussion.
He was an archetypal millennial on his way to his sister’s graduation at an Ivy League school. Here was one of those Bernie-backing children of affluent parents who have enough money to claim money is not important. In his hand was the latest i-Phone on which he texted, swiped and scrolled as we got to know each other. He ended his sentences with a slight up-tone that signaled no real commitment to his views as he probed my own.
It did not take long to realize that he professed an extreme individualism of allowing people to do whatever they wanted without moral restraints. At the same time, he expressed frustration at the political process, which he believed exists more to facilitate personal self-fulfillment than promote the common good. Despite everything, he was optimistic about the future since he thought the millennials will overcome all these obstacles by bringing meaning and purpose to American life.
Of course, as the conversation progressed, we got into those hot-button issues that are rocking campuses and the nation: transgender tyranny, micro-aggressions, self-identification and morality. I expected some political turbulence as we cruised comfortably at 32,000 feet.
But the bumps never came. It was a rather fluid debate in which we did not dwell for long on any particular subject. We disagreed on many issues but he did not defend his positions vehemently. In fact, it was rather easy to persuade him that, since lying and stealing are universally considered wrong in all cultures, some notion of natural law must exist. He had to admit that it was wrong to force people to act against their informed conscience as in the case of florists, bakers and others asked to service same-sex “marriages.” We even came to agree that things objectively exist and that reality can be known. Thus, self-identifying does not change the nature of things.
I was pleased to see that my millennial did not agree with many of the politically correct opinions the media claim he is supposed to uphold. He expressed irritation about diversity issues on campus. He lamented how our culture makes fathers look like clowns, and was writing a paper on what it means to be a man. His family and religion meant a lot to him. I could not help but admire his sense of adventure and idealistic desire to do something with meaning and purpose. I was surprised at some of the “conservative” attitudes he expressed.
Perhaps the most disconcerting part of the whole exchange was his lack of certainty. Our friendly conversation was not like the passionate student arguments of yore when people fought for their positions.
Our disagreements were much more temperamental than logical. Uncertainty and insecurity informed his every thought. If he could not explain something, he called it the product of evolution and social constructs. His temperamental resentment toward limits and restraints, and the authority that imposes them, proved difficult to get around. I wondered if there was any chance of introducing certainty into his fluid world. I am not saying all millennials are like my fellow passenger but only that the world that swirls around them favors the attitudes that my millennial had swallowed.
At a certain point, our discussion ended and we each took to reading. As the flight came to the close, I engaged in a bit of small talk to pass the time. I found out that he liked to ski, and as one who has never skied, I asked him if it is difficult. He replied that it was not that hard as long as you didn’t “jump the ropes.”
I asked him what he meant by “jumping the ropes.” He explained that there were certain areas of the mountain that are very dangerous because of the way the snow falls on them. If a person enters and skis these areas, it can cause an avalanche that can result in the death of the offender and those in the area. That is why, he explained, those in charge of the ski resorts rope off the dangerous areas and warn that those who venture into them do so at their own risk and should not expect to be rescued. Emphatically, he cautioned: “You don’t want to jump the ropes!”
As we each went our ways, I could not help but think about this last piece of advice and smile. In one sentence, he had summarized the whole point of our debate. With full certainty, he had affirmed the need for restraints, and the right of authority to establish limits. He acknowledged the tragic consequences of what happens when there are no ropes. He was clear, compelling, and reasonable.
On his part, I am sure he went to his sister’s graduation ceremony and heard a politically correct commencement address that urges graduates to accept no limits—not even the restraints of identity and nature. This is not the message they need to survive in the real world. If I were asked to give some advice to graduating millennials, I would stick to the words of my flight companion: Pursue a life of purpose and meaning, but don’t jump the ropes, lest you trigger an avalanche.