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ASK AN ELDER | Some Things Are Just Not Tweetable

my mom is yelling at youbigI am a scientist. When I want to know about something, I do research. As a researcher I know that the world is full of subtle nuances that can’t be described in 140 characters or less.  Nothing on this planet is black or white, and because of this fact, taking a position on earth-shattering issues is hard on us and hard for our leaders. You have to figure out all the angles of a situation to make an informed decision, and even then, there will always be other points of view.

The article my daughter wrote on global warming is a great example.  Did any of you even read that 3,500 word monster? Well, you should have. All of us want to stop climate change, but do we want to bring on the immediate collapse of the global economy by doing so?  What’s the right path forward?

Other equally complex topics of serious importance to your generation include: preserving a woman’s right to choose (did you know women have already lost the right to have an abortion in three states?), how to fix our broken schools and health care system, and whether it’s ethical to engage in drone warfare. I could go on and on!

The point is all these issues are multifaceted.  Where are you getting your information on them?  From blogs?  From tweets?  From biased, loudmouthed media pundits?  From 30-second television ads paid for by murky sources?  What are the credible outlets you can rely on for actual facts, rather than opinions?

You must be willing to read the multi-page newspaper articles that present a bunch of boring, but crucial details.  You must be willing to go to multiple sources to ensure you are getting both sides of a story.  If you are the most educated generation to date, then you’ve got the smarts to make sense of what’s happening in our country.  I question if you have the desire.

I’ve read that Millennials are politically engaged.  Yes, you all are not as involved as we Boomers were back in the day, but we could all do without another 1968 Chicago Democratic convention.  I salute your involvement, and I hope you know your own strength.  Politicians will pay attention to an 80-90 million strong voting cohort – if you get off your tuchuses and make yourselves heard.  Millennials made a difference in the 2008 and 2012 elections. You are making a difference on gay rights.  I shudder to think, however, of what condition your generation will allow our country to disintegrate into if you can only pay attention to the world’s most important issues for no more than 30 seconds or 140 characters at a time.  

Cherish your newspapers, your NPR, your PBS.  Subscribe to them and use them or they will go away.  Go out and seek the truth tellers.  Check their credentials before you believe them.  Challenge each other’s thinking.  Get informed,  and get active! Discuss current events with your friends.

[Editor’s note: Cool Ma, real cool.]

I know you think we’re leaving you a lousy deal.  Well, life wasn’t any easier for us when we were your age.  My generation faced nuclear warfare (ask your parents about “duck and cover”), the iron curtain, the Vietnam War (yeah, the draft and the lottery), environmental pollution (remember the EPA and Earth Day were created on our watch), rampant segregation and sexism, the Kennedy and King assassinations, and a bunch of other crappy stuff.

Maybe we didn’t get everything right, but you’re alive and in pretty good shape for the most part.  You Millennials need to hold onto the gains that have been made by us and continue to make the world a better place for the people in it.  Now is not the time to choose to be 140 characters worth of stupid. 

momStephanie James is the Director of Science at a nonprofit organization focusing on biomedical research for global health. She prefers to have her years as a 20-something stay shrouded in mystery, but says she wouldn’t go back to them, even if you paid her.  

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