Social Justice in the Millennial Generation

We are a generation overwhelmingly dedicated to social justice. This impulse can be religiously motivated, much as it has been for me. Yet for many, it is rooted in a fundamental belief in the goodness of people.
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As a middle school student, I remember donating my weekly allowance to charity. Week after week, I would go into my father's study, return the money he had given to me only hours before, and ask him to instead write a check to a charity that I cared about. Some weeks, it was to the Nature Conservancy, others it was to Hillel International, and still others, it was to a local cause that had caught my attention.

My dad often seemed wowed that I wanted to give my (not so abundant) allowance money to charity. But the more I learn about the Millennial Generation, the more I realize that my early sensibilities align with those of the 50-90 million other people who will come to comprise it.

We are a generation overwhelmingly dedicated to social justice. Where there is injustice, we want to respond, whether in-person, online, or through power of the purse -- even when it is that of a teenager who gives what little he can. This impulse can be religiously motivated, much as it has been for me. Yet for many, it is rooted in a fundamental belief in the goodness of people.

Helen Fox, in her insightful book, Their Highest Vocation: Social Justice and the Millennial Generation, hails the virtues of our rising generation as one that is inspired to make the world more just and equitable. Interestingly, however, she observes a relationship between the attitudes of Millennials and the close relationships they maintain with their parents and those of their parents' generation.

Millennials are optimists: happy, confident, ever-positive. They look to authorities for guidance and are strongly connected to their parents, who have regarded them as 'special' since birth and obsessed over them at every age. They have been successful rule-followers since childhood; cooperative and compliant, they have responded to the high expectations of parents and teachers with a string of achievements. Perhaps because of their warm relationships with adults, Millennials tend to trust the government and believe it should be more actively involved in taking care of its citizens.

Instilled with a dedication to social justice, perhaps in good measure by our parents, we seek to collaborate when possible to resolve social problems. Rather than saving our allowance money to protest our parents' causes, we more often use it to support of causes that both we and our parents care deeply for.

Such intergenerational collaboration on social justice issues holds tremendous potential. Yet this potential has not been fully tapped.

The Baby Boomers, who contributed greatly to the push for racial and gender equality, have much to teach our own generation about its advocacy for marriage equality and increased interfaith collaboration.

We are bearers of the Baby Boomers' legacy and often bear that legacy with pride. But we all too infrequently engage our parents and other Boomers directly about how their great social justice endeavors could inform our own. It is an unhelpful silence.

An upcoming event at the Jewish Theological Seminary on Tuesday evening seeks to reinvigorate this much-needed conversation. Entitled "Justice, Tzedek, Sadaqah: Pursuing Social Justice in Multi-faith Communities," it gives a clear platform to the cause of interfaith collaboration and asks Boomer social justice visionaries -- Rabbi David Saperstein of the Religious Action Center, the Reverend Julie Johnson Staples of Riverside Church, and Dr. Azizah al-Hibri of Karamah -- to share their insights so that the Millennials can in turn become more effective leaders in social justice causes.

While the program does not in its framing bring into conversation the significant and growing role of non-religious Millennials in social justice causes, it foments dialogue between Boomers and Millennials around the cause that motivates them both. It is a cause that many Boomers view as religiously inspired, while many Millennials view as intrinsic to our humanity, invoked within individuals by religious and secular sources alike. But the shared embrace of social justice is likely to ameliorate the distinctive orientation that each generation has towards it.

The gathering is the first step in a broader conversation that should take place between the two largest generations in United States history and the two generations that most actively embrace social justice as their raison d'être. It looks to be a landmark event and emblematic of a resurgent dialogue, made possible by a common cause and the positive feelings that already exist between generations.

If you have a question that you would like to ask panelists at this event, please tweet it to me @JoshuaMZStanton. It would be a joy to share the many questions and insights of others.

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