Millennials Who Have Gone YOLO!

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What motivates transformation?  Throwing caution to the wind?  Risking it all? 

What gives someone who has it all, apparently, eyes that suddenly see the futility of a lifestyle?  What causes someone who has been reaching for their version of the stars to know, gradually or suddenly, that the stars they have grasped are as dust in the wind?  How about finally admitting to yourself that you are miserable?

“Welcome to the YOLO Economy.”  That is the title of a New York Times article that arrived in my in-box this week and, unlike dozens of other commentaries, grabbed my attention.  I began reading…

But, before I tell you about observations that focus on millennials (the generation sometimes identified as those born between 1980 and 2000, more or less, which includes my three children), I have to share what I experienced just a few sentences into the news story.  I noticed myself drifting away from the written page.  I was singing to myself a song popularized by Johnny Cash and Tennessee Ernie Ford.  I searched for it on YouTube and listened to both versions of “16 Tons,” known better to me as, “I Owe my Soul My Soul to the Company Store.” (I invite my readers to take a detour and really listen to the song’s sorrowful and hopeless laments. Then, ask this question of yourself, “To what, if anything, have I sold my soul?” Only after feeling the soul-suffering of such a sale, continue reading this column.)

The song includes the line, “St. Peter, don’t call me, ‘cause I can’t go, I owe my soul to the company store.”  A coal miners, digging and loading 16 tons of # 9 coal in single day was ensnare, like a shrieking lion in a steel trap.  Like share-croppers who were enslaved by a Plantation Overlord, the coal miner was in debt bondage to the Company.  Freedom was not an option.

In the “YOLO Economy” freedom is an option; but only to a select few—those identified in the New York Times article by Kevin Roose as millennials “fattened by a year of stay-at-home savings and soaring asset prices” who have the resources, and the courage, to follow the rallying cry, YOLO—”You Only Live Once.”

I only live once, and I want to be happy, now!  I only live once, and I want time with my family, now!  I only live once, and this past year has given me a chance to re-think my life.  I now realize I have been miserable in my corporate big-pay-check job.  Maybe I can turn that part time hobby I have been playing with into a new life!

Which brings us back to where we began. 

What motivates transformation?  Throwing caution to the wind?  Risking it all?  What gives someone who has it all, apparently, eyes that suddenly see the futility of a life-style?  Someone has been reaching for their version of the stars and gradually, or suddenly, knows that the stars they have grasped are as dust in the wind?

Friends, I am convinced that the predominate motivations that guide most everyone in our culture are nothing more than such “dust in the wind.”  Our culture has become like the dust bowl of the plain’s states during the 1930’s.  (Just as I invited you to pause in your reading to listen to “16 Tons,” I encourage you now to read the Wikipedia article on “The Dust Bowl.”  Or, recall what you know about John Steinbeck’s novel, The Grapes of Wrath or Woodie Guthrie’s, Dust Bowl Ballads, including Dust Bowl Refugee.  Economic loss during these years reached the 2019 equivalent of $460,000,000 per day.  Feel the desperation.  Only then, come back to this article.)

We have been snookered!  We have been deceived by the principalities and powers of the world that “working for the man,” so we can consume more and more stuff and build our individual “Towers of Babel”—towers like “individualism,” or “security guarantees–is the royal road to happiness.  This has always been a terrible deception.  A primary lesson I learned from the report, “Welcome to the YOLO Economy,” is that it has taken a pandemic, with lots to grieve and lots of time to think about it, to cause some millennials (and other generations as well) to open their eyes to the fact that something is fundamentally wrong.  The covid 19 pandemic has opened the eyes of many people, but not wide enough.

Don’t you see?  Though the suffering and diminished lives are everywhere to be found, only a few have the resources to finance their rebellion.  Most, even in the industrialized world, remain lost in their poverty of purpose and isolation from beloved community.   

The YOLO rebellion can be, has to be, only the beginning for those millennials who long for a new birth of freedom.  They must also change their focus away from isolated security towards community well-being.  Eventually, they must also shift their focus from personal happiness to the common good and loving purpose.  Then these men and women, hoping they might shape a future of abundant living for themselves and their posterity, might actually begin to change the world.            

Their world desperately needs changing, and soon.

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