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All Hail the Virtuous Millennials!

Millennials have shown time and time again, experts say, that they are ready, willing and more-than able to rise to the challenge.
Millennials have fun....

Millennials didn’t grow up in the worst of times – things can always get worse, it’s simply a matter of perspective. But it’s fair to say that the majority of them came of age amid one of American history’s greatest time of challenge.

Still, it seems you wouldn’t know it based on how this generation thinks and acts. Millennials have shown time and time again, experts say, that they are ready, willing and more-than able to rise to the challenge.

Previous generations certainly had their own allotment of horrors – the wars (World War I and II, the Korean and Vietnam conflict), then things like the Kent State massacre, the mass murderers like Texas sniper Charles Whitman, serial killers like Ted Bundy, and mob wars in Philadelphia, New York and other cities, putting on newspaper front pages gruesome dead mobsters. (Think of Carmine Galante, Lilo, shot dead, a cigar stump stuck in his mouth; Philadelphia boss Angelo Bruno sitting in the front passenger's seat, head tilted back and mouth agape after a shotgun blast ended his life.) There were innumerable other disasters and horrors.

Then there’s my generation – the Gen-Xers. We were handsomely screwed, reaching maturity amid the AIDS epidemic (thank you, God, for that one). Not to mention the specter of Communism and total annihilation via nuclear weapons. On a lesser level, the Italian Mafia also was still kicking. They weren’t exactly a threat equal to the previous ones mentioned, but they certainly didn’t help. And in some cases, LCN, as the Feds call it, provided improper role models. John Gotti was seemingly everywhere – and remains a firm fixture of the American zeitgeist today.

As atrocious as some of these events were, they were mostly resolved. Yes, an argument can be raised that terrorism grew partly out of the way the world was casually recast following World War II. But the two wars themselves ended, treaties were signed, war crimes even prosecuted. Also finite: the Korean and Vietnam war. Even the great global menace once posed by Russia has dissipated. Russia and America are allies (I think… though this seems to change from day to day). AIDS, like diabetes, is a treatable condition, with proper medication. And we probably won’t be seeing another John Gotti in our lifetimes, anyway.

The Millennials came of age amid an entirely different and more challenging series of events. That’s because they were not so much events, as trends – visions of the future. Suicide bombers, for example; one person willing to die to take a group of soldiers with them or fly planes into buildings and kill massive numbers of people and cause irreparable financial and other damages.

Consider some of the key events this demographic absorbed via the news (which itself is now part of the problem, having grown from an evening television event into a 24/7 bombardment via the Internet and cable, streaming or satellite television):

The Oklahoma City bombing.
The space shuttle disaster (as well as the earlier one).
Hurricanes that wiped out an American city—and a failed bid to save suvivors.
Most campus shootings, mass murders, serial killers.
The September 11 tragedy.

While these events impacted several generations, including the Baby Boomers and Generation Xers, the Millennials were the most psychically vulnerable.

“No cohort of American youth has ever endured repeated mass catastrophes in the harsh, inescapable glare of a 24/7 media environment,” an influential and often-quoted USA Today report noted.

What differentiates the Millennial’s experience with crime and mass murder is the horror’s arbitrariness, which has fostered in many the mindset of: “Enjoy life while you can, because you never know what will happen tomorrow."

Shaped by trauma in their formative years, however, this generation is far from broken.

One would think they’d be fearful, less likely to travel – perhaps consuming the same psych meds as previous generations. Oh, the horror! And the depression and anxiety and whatever caused by economic gloom and the general residual doldrums of past events, including 9/11.

Yet that is far from true. As a generation, they are an optimistic group – optimistic in general, not according to a specific criterion. I am not making this stuff up, either. This is the general consensus of social scientists, psychologists and generational researchers. This is what they have been saying of Millennials over the years.

There’s an inexplicable piece to this puzzle however. The Millennials are simply much nicer and civil than was the case 25 years ago. Ironically, William Strauss and Neil Howe, authors of the 1991 book Generations, in which they coined the Millennial name for Americans born after 1981, predicted this generational phenomenon. These young uns, they said, would become “the nation’s next great Civic generation.”

Many reports point to the decline in violent crime over the past quarter-century as one of the more obvious examples of the better behavior of Millennials. The data says the most crime-prone age and gender cohort — 15-to-25-year-old males — are committing far fewer crimes than that cohort did in 1990 (In other words, my generation. Thanks a lot!) Over the past 20 years, Pew Research Center stats note that the gun murder rate fell 49 percent, forcible rape fell 33 percent, robbery by 48 percent, aggravated assault by 39 percent.

The Washington Examiner even asked rhetorically: Are today's Millennials a new Victorian generation? That article also noted that high school senior-class binge-drinking is lower than it ever was since 1976. The same goes for ninth graders engaging in sex. The percentage of seniors having sex with more than three people also has declined significantly. Furthermore (and probably more controversially than the paper realizes) it states that college date rape isn’t as widespread as some media segments have said. The story quotes Justice Department data that indicates the rate of rape on college campuses is 0.6 percent, not the 20 percent figure more-often bandied about in the media.

The “niceness” trend holds even when considering the ethnicities of Millennials, as well as key historical benchmarks. The Millenial demographic includes more Hispanic and blacks than previous generations. Statistically, due to income inequalities, the so-called minority groups tended to show “above-average crime rates.” Compounding the crime-rate issue is that these Millennials are much more likely to belong to single-parent households. Statistically speaking, this should mean we are experiencing the mother of all crime waves. Yet that is far from the case.

There is a near-infinite number of opinions and theories as to why the Millennials are the virtuous generation. Better policing, reforms related to education and welfare. Political rhetoric.

It may be nothing more complicated than the simple fact that people are quite capable of learning from their past – as well as the past.

We saw John Gotti and all the other infamous mob bosses of the 1980s and 1990s arrested, handcuffed like any common criminal – and then we watched as they went to prison for life. The same goes for all those thieving CEOs, senior executives and financial advisors, ranging from former financier Bernie Madoff to Enron chief Kenneth Lay to WorldCom’s Bernie Ebbers to Tyco CEO Dennis Kozlowski, we saw these while-collar professionals, the businessmen who should have been among the most admired, receive the same well-deserved treatment as the murderous mobsters. (Though I personally don’t think Kozlowski deserved what he got).

We recall or read or listen to music inspired by an earlier, more violent pop and music culture, when dreadful numbers of young people died or become heartless murderers as per the crack epidemic, as well as the heyday of the street gang. Even some of the most high-profile recording artists of their day went down in a hail of bullets.

Everyone alive has experienced these events, with the personal impact varying by degree. But the Millennial Generation seems to have shown more clearly than any other generation that when it’s their turn at bat, they just might do a better job.


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