Are Millennials Really "The Burnout Generation"?
Writer Anne Helen Peterson recently made waves with her BuzzFeed News article “How Millennials Became The Burnout Generation.” In it, she draws on the psychological concept of “burnout” to describe the day-to-day condition of most people who fall into this generational category. Said condition might best be summed up as a kind of chronic exhaustion that emerges in a world where the traditional boundaries between work and play, public and private, professional and personal have all but vanished. It’s a provocative thesis, but is she right? If so, does this fatigue only apply to so-called Millennials? Tune in to hear Nathan and Cameron discuss these issues.
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Nathan Rittenhouse: Hello, and welcome to Thinking Out Loud. Thinking Out Loud is a podcast where we think out loud about current events and Christian hope. I'm your co-host Nathan Rittenhouse.
Cameron McAllister: And I'm your co-host, Cameron McAllister.
Nathan Rittenhouse: And Cameron, today we have an exciting topic to talk about. But, before we get into it, I think I need to give a disclaimer and mention that if you were born between the years of 1914 and 2020, we probably are accidentally going to say something that will offend you in one way or the other.
Cameron McAllister: Interesting.
Nathan Rittenhouse: Yeah. The topic that we need to talk about are millennials.
Cameron McAllister: Oh.
Nathan Rittenhouse: And a lot of people when they hear the phrase, "millennial," have a vision in their mind of something that's kind of close to the zombie apocalypse. And so we want to speak into that terror and trauma that filters through the digital atmosphere that we live in, and speak into that, not as professional psychologists or sociologists or cultural analysts. But just as two guys who, actually, fit into the age range of that kind of born between '81 and '96. Let's hash that out. But give us a little background as to why you started thinking about this, and then we'll take it from there.
Cameron McAllister: Yeah. There was an article circulating last week. There's a good chance that many of you listening have read it. It's a rather lengthy article and it's called, "How Millennials Became the Burnout Generation." It's on Buzzfeed. The author is Anne Helen Peterson, and she wastes no time at the beginning of the article establishing her own millennial bonafides. She is, herself, a millennial. But it's an article that does, it really goes for the fine texture of what it feels like to be a millennial. And as we talk about it, you'll quickly see that it's quite expansive. So, both Nathan and I don't think that this article applies only to millennials. So, just don't hear that as I say this, or give you a little brief overview.
But she starts with a relatively practical and seemingly innocuous observation. She talked about this tendency that she had to put off menial tasks. Just sort of mundane chores. And, some of the ones that she gives, we can talk a little bit more about this, they're a little bit idiosyncratic. And actually open up some interesting questions, in and of themselves. But, for instance, taking her knives to get sharpened, or taking her shoes to a cobbler, getting the dog groomed, registering to vote. That's a big one. And the registering to vote, she begins with that one, because many ... In surveys, many millennials have abstained from voting, not because they don't have strong opinions or because they don't necessarily care, but they simply didn't want to go through the registration process, even though the registration process is actually, relatively straightforward and actually simple.
But she asks, she begins to do a little bit of psychoanalysis, why are these tasks to difficult? "It's not that I'm lazy," she says. She writing, currently working on two manuscripts. She's navigating I think, three moves. She's coordinating all sorts of stuff at the office. So, she's really busy. She's doing some really hard work. And she comes to the conclusion that a lot of these tasks are very low reward. And, so, it doesn't seem like there's my payoff when it comes to completing these tasks, taking the shoes to the cobbler or whatever it is. But, on another deeper level, and here's where I think the article begins to resonate with a lot of people...
She draws on psychology, and, specifically, on the concept of burnout. And she talks about the fact, so burnout is distinct from exhaustion. And exhaustion you simply come to a dead stop, and you can't go anymore. But in burnout, you continue to go even though you're absolutely wiped out. So, you're running on fumes, so to speak. And she argues that a unique part of the experience of a millennial is to always be going, to always feel like you have to be on all the time. Think about the pressure that you feel if you go into some sort of a work party, or get together, or meeting where you're going to be meeting a lot of people. If you're an introvert, this is already ringing alarm bells. And you just have to be on all the time.
Well, this author argues, and Helen Peterson argues that that is the way it ... That's part of how it feels to be a millennial. You're always at that meeting. You're always on. You're always performing. You always have to keep up appearances. You always have to anticipate reactions and responses from everyone around you at all times. And social media gives us kind of a window into this phenomenon. But it goes beyond social media. It goes to the fact that your phones make your life increasingly porous, so it's much more difficult to draw boundaries with work, for instance. Bosses and co-workers have access to you 24/7.
They could text you. They can email you. They could Snapchat you. You name it. And they could also. But they also have access to your photographs online, whatever you post, unless you're real careful with your settings. But the point is, we're always watching each other, and you're always being watched. And you're doing everything in anticipation of being watched. It's kind of almost a default setting now. You're not really, consciously, bringing that to mind, but you're always performing. And she argues that the result of this is just intense exhaustion. And one of the byproducts of that is that we tend to shurk, sort of, those menial tasks: taking the car to the carwash, registering to vote, going to the DMV. These kinds of tasks become ... Because it's just one more thing. Or answering our emails, answering that text is just one more thing. And you're operating on burnout 24/7, 365.
And so the articles is long, it's got a lot. It kind of, it does some sort eccentric stuff there, politically, at the end. But I do think that there's some valuable insights there, and, particularly, on that burnout note. And, so, that's kind of what caught my attention, and that really ... So I thought that this might be a fruitful discussion for Thinking Out Loud. Because it doesn't just apply to millennials, does it Nathan?
Nathan Rittenhouse: Well, and I think some of the value of it, too, is not just article, but then the response to the article too. You have these reports that people are writing and weeping, saying, "Finally somebody understands me." So, even if you don't experience that, as somebody listening in to our conversation today, it is alive and well in some sectors of the culture that you live in. So there's that. I know, Cameron, in the past, you've said ... We both have commented on, we don't really necessarily like the kind of generational labels. Don't think they're super helpful. And-
Cameron McAllister: Very millennial of us.
Nathan Rittenhouse: Yeah. And very millennial of us to punt the label. But, I started thinking, why do we ... So if you think about who defines the culture of the 60s? Was it the 72 year olds that lived in the 60s that defined the culture of the 60s? For whatever reason, the age group that we now refer to as millennial, I think, historically, has been sort of the age group that we've used sort of as the canary in the mines, as it were, for-
Cameron McAllister: The representative sample for everyone.
Nathan Rittenhouse: The representative sample for kind of how we stereotype our entire culture. And so while the labels might not fit nicely, maybe there is some value, if my hypothesis here is true, in kind of analyzing that age group to kind of see something more about ourselves generally speaking as a culture, not just that group. Does that make any sense?
Cameron McAllister: Well yeah, I mean I think the ... So the younger group, and if you're talking about the 60s, you're talking about what are now called, we call them the Boomers, right?
And, then, I suppose, this late 70s, early 80s that's Gen X. And where the boundary gets set shows you a little bit of the arbitrary nature of this. But I mean, these generational labels are heuristic devices. They're teaching tools. So they're helpful up to a point. If you push them too far, that you can push them into really kind of absurd heights, and you end up speaking in vast over-generalizations, and eliding over all kind of individual lives.
But yeah, I mean young people, of course, are at the forefront of some of the new ways of thinking, the new trends, the new fashions. And so, in that sense, viewing them as this sort of proverbial canary in the coalmine can be an instructive exercise, I think. And in this case, regarding this specific article and millennials, I think part of the reason there was such an emotional response to it is because there's been a lot of ... And I suspect that this is not unique this time. I suspect that this happened in the 1960s. You always have a group of people saying, "Oh, kids these days." Right? But I think that there's been a lot of ... When the millennial label comes up, there's sometimes a lot of negativity. And the way that that negativity is specifically directed these days has a lot to do with, "Well, a lot of these younger people are just so darn entitled. They think that they can come into work whenever they want. They think that-"
Nathan Rittenhouse: Right. Wearing yoga pants.
Cameron McAllister: Yeah. And yoga pants get a nod in this article, by the way. And we can talk a little bit more about that. But yeah, "They're entitled, lazy, emotionally very, very weak." And I think what this article does is it gives you a little bit more of a holistic picture of the day-to-day experience of people who fit into that millennial category. And it doesn't paint with too broad a brush. And she, kind of, in this article, she looks at herself as this sort of representative canary, if you will. But it comes to that, when she talks about that burnout concept, I do think that's useful. In many ways, this has a bearing on all of our lives these days because of just the nature of our 21st century world, and especially here in North America. The way all of us tend to, I guess you could say, live out loud. That is, publish our thoughts, and our photographs-
Nathan Rittenhouse: Can I interrupt you a second here?
Cameron McAllister: Yeah, please.
Nathan Rittenhouse: Because I think you're about to say something important. And I want to help the people listening in on this ... This is just me guessing that you're gonna say something important. So you better-
Cameron McAllister: You know me too well.
Nathan Rittenhouse: Yeah. But-
Cameron McAllister: Or do you?
Nathan Rittenhouse: Yeah. So the point being here, though, is, that for everybody who's not a millennial, that's older than a millennial - here comes an eschatology joke - the pre-millennials. No, anybody who's not a millennial listening to what the millennials are complaining about are gonna say, "Yeah. Well, life has always been hard. Try living through World War Two. Yada, yada, yada."
Cameron McAllister: Right. Yep.
Nathan Rittenhouse: Whatever. And so we're not ... This article acknowledges that, that life has always been different. There's always been a bit of suffering. There's always been a bit of struggle. But it's trying to say that the nature of that struggle is different, or the nature of that stress and pressure is different. And so I think that's what you're about to say. But I wanted to clarify why what I think you're about to say might be important.
Cameron McAllister: Not even close. I'm just kidding.
Nathan Rittenhouse: Oh, man.
Cameron McAllister: No, you're right. And I think in a certain sense, part of the tension of being a person, is that, it's summed up so well in Ecclesiastes. There truly is nothing new under the sun. But that doesn't mean that there aren't unique challenges to each age. And so one of the ways that we really feel this in the modern world is with new technologies. New technologies, whether they usher in a new convenience. I mean, something as simple as an air conditioner isn't that simple. They always bring with them new sets of ethical challenges.
A little side note on that air conditioner, and Nathan Rittenhouse could talk a whole lot more about this. But it's the air conditioner, just to show you how none of this stuff is neutral, the air conditioner is largely responsible for us moving into regions that previous generations would've just said, "Oh, those are inhospitable to human life. You probably shouldn't live there. Temperatures are erratic. Too many storms." But now we do that.
Now, we experience a lot of, in the realm of natural disasters. But, at a certain day and age, some people would've said, "Well, you shouldn't live there. Air conditioner or no." Now that's just to illustrate every new technology brings with it a new set of ethical challenges as well. And that's how some of these unique challenges emerge here. And I think, when it comes to the way millennials experience the world, I always come back to Peter Kreeft. My goodness, I should get a commission for this.
I should get in touch with Peter Kreeft and say, "Hey, man." But, anyway, Peter Kreeft has a really helpful observation. And he's just an extraordinarily wise thinker, and has a way of saying things very concisely. But he points out, he says, "In the West here, we have largely conquered physical pain." In recent years, you can ... I mean, all sorts of hilarious ... Modern dentistry, great. Local anesthetic, great. All these different ways and all these medications that we use. But at great cost. And he says, we've conquered physical pain. But now we're absolutely inundated with spiritual pain, because we have more time than we've ever had. We've got more conveniences available to us. And we feel utterly lost. And we feel like our lives are meaningless and lacking in purpose.
And so now we're experiencing tremendous psychic pain. And I think what this article hones in on, a little bit, is the nature of some of that psychic pain. And the way it shows up nowadays for many people, and I do think this might be a little bit of a unique feature for some younger people, the fact that you have to put your life out there and publish it for the world. And that, almost, as though, we wouldn't state it in these terms, but almost as though you're very value depends on it.
Your very value depends on people seeing that you take the perfect vacations, you have the perfect balance in your life between work and leisure. You make the perfect meals. You eat the perfect meals. You watch all the best stuff. You're in touch with all the best, most cutting-edge thought. The idea that we have to get that out there all the time, that we're always performing. And that we're sort of a kind of product that we could modify our lives. And that by the way, we put this stuff out there. And of course, oftentimes, we're accentuating certain things, we're tweaking it.
And so what people are getting is not really us. And then guess what, hey, we feel lonely, we feel like nobody really knows us. So, it does seem to me, and, I'd be curious about your thoughts here, but it does seem to me that that is a genuinely new trend. And that it's been ushered in, not just with social media, but it's been the advent of the online world, and kind of the explosion of the web 2.0 era. I don't know. Nathan, what do you think about some of that?
Nathan Rittenhouse: Yeah. So I think I definitely see a connection there. I'd add another wrinkle to it that might make it a bit more difficult. And so, basically, what you've been talking about is kind of the exporting the justification for our behavior. And so we need to do things in a way that can market ourselves to fit with the general ethos of the time, things we're supposed to be interested in. So the dictation of what it is that we're supposed to be doing comes from with outside of ourselves. Here the cultural expectations, that, if I have a dog, I got it from a shelter.
Cameron McAllister: Yeah.
Nathan Rittenhouse: That sort of, there's an ethos there that we live in. And, so, social media feeds that, while, at the same time there's a cultural understanding that I myself am the one who's supposed to identify who I am. And so we an individualization of identity with an outsourcing of behavioral expectations. And so people are stuck in this loop between trying to live up to everybody else's standards while being true to themselves, and defining themselves in living their own truth. And that's a fundamental recipe for disaster on a soul satisfaction level, I think, when you're caught in between those two drives.
Cameron McAllister: Yeah,I mean, there's a kind of irony there where on the one hand, we want to try to communicate that we follow our own spontaneous whims, and we lead lives of just serendipity. We do what we want and we're being authentic, as Charles Taylor would say. But on the other, yeah, like you said, we're harnessed to everybody else's expectations. We're kind of slaves to different fashions and trends. And so we feel this terrible tension. But then I think a lot of us are just ... And I think, again, this would go beyond millennials. But a lot off people nowadays do feel starved for the genuine conversations.
And by genuine conversations, I just mean conversations where it's really limitations and weaknesses, and struggles are really admitted and dealt with, and really faced head-on. And there are some indications that that is happening more, and that there's a pushback against the, sort of, "Hey, I lead an absolutely picture perfect life." But there isn't enough of it yet. And, I think, you look at some of the ... And I know that statistics are always kind of ... They can be used in weaselly ways. You want to be careful. But I actually can back this up a little bit.
I was speaking to a psychologist recently. And works at an Ivy League institution. And I ask him, when we hear about the growing mental health challenges. When we hear about, for instance, these swelling suicide rates, particularly among people, is the language traumatic? Or is this really what's happening? And he said, "No, that is accurate. We are experiencing a real epidemic. And we simply don't know how to deal with this crisis right now." And so you look at that, and you don't want to draw alarmist conclusions. And you recognize that in every age, there are always mental health issues and other issues with humanity.
Again, we're not dealing with a World War right now. It's true. But you see this, and you clearly ... You can step back and you can say that something's not right here. Something is really remiss if we, on the one hand, seem to have more conveniences available to us. And, on the other hand, we're struggling, especially our young people are struggling this much. What's happening? And so I do think, for all that to say, as annoying as these labels can be and some of these conversations can be, I do think that they're necessary and instructive. And I think we can learn a little bit if we press into the issues. But I do think that there's some limitations even to this article. So for instance, I think it's a little bit interesting that the author just rattles off, "Oh, taking the knives to be sharpened. Taking shoes to a cobbler." Do you take your knives to be sharpened, Nathan?
Nathan Rittenhouse: No. No.
Cameron McAllister: Take your shoes to a cobbler?
Nathan Rittenhouse: No.
Cameron McAllister: Yeah, there's a kinda class element that entering here a little bit, I think.
Nathan Rittenhouse: Yep. So all right, yeah. Let me ... So I think you've addressed this a little bit. But let me kind of hit the pause button on the conversation here and ask you, do you know any stereotypical millennials?
Cameron McAllister: No.
Nathan Rittenhouse: Because I know plenty of people that fit into this age category that I would say are phenomenally productive citizens of our society, and they're making great contributions to the communities and the workplaces that they work in, and churches, and really have their acts together. Financially stable, young families, just really going for it. And so, it seems like, the digital version of the world that I read about is a lot of hand ringing. But my lived experience on a day-to-day level is a lot of very highly confident functional people who are dealing with tricky things in life, as humans do. But handling them pretty well. And so I don't, on one hand, want you just brush over and make it sound like, "Oh, everybody born between '81 and '96 is a parasite on society." Certainly that's not the case. But, on the other hand, I do want to take into account ... And maybe it's a function of the circles that I travel in, the places that I've been.
I was in the city with a youth pastor who was pointing out the millennials stopping traffic to get the perfect selfie, kind of thing. So that exists. That's real. It is a real thing we're talking about. But on the other hand, because it is of prevalent mode by which we talk about, this age group on social media doesn't necessarily mean that that deeply corresponds to the reality of the world that we live in. So, just a little side thought there, caveat.
Cameron McAllister: Yeah. I think we can ... The temptation, always, and this is not unique to our age, is always to prognosticate and kind of diagnose the particular ailments of your own time. And, in order to do that in such large scale terms, you have to paint with a broad brush. And, so, if you look at these trends in isolation, let's say for instance, a record number of younger people not registering to vote. You can draw really kind of broad conclusions from that and say, "Well, it's the most entitled generation." Or you can say, "Oh, they're extremely lazy. And they're not taking proper responsibility, behaving like adults."
In the article she does talk about the fact that, "adulting," when it's used as a verb is meant to connote all of those menial tasks that make life so difficult. And, just to return to those yoga pants, she points out that the yoga pants for all the flak people take for them, didn't she say that they're really darn efficient? Because-
Nathan Rittenhouse: Yeah. Efficiency is the goal there. Yeah.
Cameron McAllister: Right. So again, and that goes along with her always being on. And actually, I personally vouch for that a little bit.
Nathan Rittenhouse: Oh, yeah. Tell me about your yoga pants, Cameron.
Cameron McAllister: Yeah. So my own yoga pants ... No, I'm just kidding. That would be terrible. My wife, of course, and, some of her friends, I mean as young moms who, shuffling from appointment to appointment, going to the doctor, and then getting a quick workout in. Not at the house ... I mean, not at a gym, but probably more at the house. And it just makes ... It does. But again, that it does-
Nathan Rittenhouse: I think athleisure is the-
Cameron McAllister: Yes.
Nathan Rittenhouse: -dresscode you're referring to there.
Cameron McAllister: There you go. Athleisure. But again, it does underscore her point that you're always on. And again, some people might, I can hear them already countering, "Yeah, that's just life. Welcome to the real world." Sure. But I do think that the word I keep using is, "porous." That porous nature where everything is kind of, you can't draw clear boundaries between work and leisure, between working out and leisure, and so on and so forth. I do think that we're seeing that carried out to a different extent. And I do think that that can cause that burnout mentality. And, so, if we take that into account, I think there are ways to respond here that have a bearing on how we establish, not only boundaries, but privacy in our lives. How we find ways to actually, really shut stuff off, and take time to regroup. And I'm not talking about self-care. I mean, that's another, I think, problematic term that-
Nathan Rittenhouse: And it's an $11 billion a year industry.
Cameron McAllister: It's an $11 billion a year industry. And I think in many ways, we can do an entire episode on self-care. And it was recently savagely parodied, by the way, in the Hulu horror movie, "New Year, New You." Not necessarily a recommendation, but a pretty scathing look at that whole self-care culture. No, but I'm not talking about self-indulgence. I'm talking about ways in which to just take time. I mean, I always think of Pascal's ... Pascal jotted down in his "Pensees," "I'm convinced that so many man's problems boil down to the fact that he can't sit for an hour quietly in his room." And I think we need to sit quietly a little bit and take breaks. And it's easily, easily doable. It really is. It's not that complex. But it does require more intentionality maybe nowadays.
Nathan Rittenhouse: Yeah.
Cameron McAllister: And it requires strategies for taking yourself off the grid, so to speak. But I think that's something that's very needed these days.
Nathan Rittenhouse: Yeah. So let me push into this a little bit. I think, one of the other things that is indicative or is easy to point to is fascinating in all these articles about millennials, how often the 2008 financial crisis shows up-
Cameron McAllister: Right.
Nathan Rittenhouse: ... within that.
Cameron McAllister: And this article's no exception?
Nathan Rittenhouse: This one's no exception. Which is a little bit fascinating. So maybe there is a connection between a financial crisis 11 years ago, and why you can't show up to work on time. But, if there is, it's on the millennial to explain in a bit more of a rational way of what that is. So I think we see a lot of outsourcing of blame, also, is part of something that's seen to be part of our generation. What I think would be instructive for us as Christians who are interesting in community, and thinking about what it means to be part of the family of God to say, what are some of these really odd traits that we seemingly see within millennials pointing to a hunger for?
And so maybe I can give an example like this. So I was talking to a guy who works with a lot of millennials who are in a city that has a very big food scene. And I was just kinda people-watching for a little bit and I said, "What percentage of their budget do you think millennials are spending on food?" And he said, "I just did a budgeting class." And he said, "A lot of the millennials in my budgeting class were spending 70% of their income of food." I said, "17?"
Cameron McAllister: Oh my goodness.
Nathan Rittenhouse: "One, seven?" And he said, "No. 70. Seven, zero." And I'm still not even sure that I heard him right after he repeated it. 70% of your income on food? I mean, that's-
Cameron McAllister: Wow.
Nathan Rittenhouse: ... that amount of energy hasn't been spent on food since we were nomads. So, what in the world? Like, okay you can't ... So probably for most people, over a certain age, are thinking ... We live in America which has the lowest percentage of our income spent on food necessary to live as possible. So it seems ridiculous, on one hand. But then ... So we start thinking, "Okay, so what is the reason people are doing that?" Well, you can eat fairly cheaply in America, probably not gonna be good for you. And so you have a younger generation who's interested in nutrient dense food, and being healthy, and not dying of heart disease under 57, who's interested in that.
They're interested in the environmental ethics of the way that their food is produced. So that's going to add some price to it. And then they're interested in eating in community, so nobody's cooking for themselves. You're having a fancy environmentally friendly lunch, and then you're going out with a group of people for an eating experience in the evening. Yeah, I could see how you could start spending a bunch of ... So, the numbers sound ridiculous. Perhaps embedded within that is a longing for true community. Maybe the fact that people love to spend time complaining about how they don't even have time to walk their dog, and how much stress their dog is causing them.
And a lot of people would look at that and say, "Hey, you know what? You're miserable with a dog. The dog's probably miserable with you. You can live without a dog." And so, I know this is a gasp and shock and horror to many people listening. I know that. But that idea of, "Well, maybe the walk to the dog park is part of how I get my community interaction." So I'm trying to kind of look at the things that we would say, "This is objectively ridiculous," and it seems like a lack of focus and understanding of how things are connected, and say, perhaps there's a deeper human longing below the surface of some of these behaviors that we haven't always articulated, and picked up on, one of those being the longing, as you said earlier, for family and community, in a very transient, globalized culture.
Cameron McAllister: Yeah. I think the more I look at it, one of the assumptions, that so many of us have, this is certainly not limited to millennials. And this is, I think, in many ways, this is a very North American assumption. And I say that as a European transplant. But the notion all pain, whether physical or psychic is necessarily harmful to you. And remember, I think we've referenced this before, but Johnathan Haidt and Greg Lukianoff, and their book, The Coddling of the American Mind identify this as one of the three major misconceptions circulating on university campuses. But, really, the culture in that is, "What hurts you makes you weaker." So it's that being the opposite of, "What doesn't kill you makes you stronger."
Nathan Rittenhouse: Yeah.
Cameron McAllister: Or, what hurts you actively makes you weaker. That really does seem to be assumption that we think, "Gosh, pain is always going to be actively harmful. It's gonna inhibit my life." But, if we just take a few steps back, we recognize how ridiculous that is. It doesn't make any sense. You're a bundle of nerves. A mortal bundle of nerves living with other mortal bundles of nerves. And if you love or attach to anything or anyone, you're going to be hurt, because everything dies eventually. And so you're in a world where it's pain, psychic, physical, all of it. It's guaranteed. And so part of this, I think, is, we need to regroup and understand what it means to be person.
And part of that involves acknowledging our vulnerability in a way that takes into account the fact that pain is not always a bad thing. For instance, you need pain to grow. Nathan, you and I both have little kids. And we know that without pain, these kids are never going to walk, they're never going to function. They're never going to gain any level of independence. You need it. And so to recognize that pain sometimes serves a teleological purpose as well. But on a deeper level, the avoidance of all pain has led to increasing levels of loneliness and isolation, because we don't want to be vulnerable, and we shut that off, and we hide in distractions, or we hide from real serious relationships.
And then we feel isolated and lonely. And we need to depend on ourselves. I mean, think about how foreign the notion is that the Puritans had a deep seated tradition, and a lot of writings, a lot of reflections on a good death. Preparing for a good death. And deaths, of course, in Puritans households, the elderly were not placed in homes. They weren't outsourced, so to speak. And I know that there's complexity there with that question. But they, for the most part, you've brought this up on the podcast before, Nathan, relatives died in the home, and with family members gathered around the bed. And it was a bitter sweet moment.
There was celebration of the life. There was mourning of course. But there was a deeper understanding of human limitations, human mortality, and the fact that we need a greater hope than this life alone. And I think, it seems to me that that is one of the quintessential perspectives that is missing from so many of our lives. And we don't realize that. We just rattle on without really thinking about it. But I think that's something we need to recover.
Nathan Rittenhouse: So, I think if the pain, suffering, intimacy that real relationships brings is one of the quintessential things, maybe I can be so bold as to say that another one of those to grapple with would be, what do we do with pleasure and the expectations of pleasures? And so to swing the pendulum back in the other direction of saying, it's not just suffering that we have to grapple with. It's the good stuff that we need to find meaning in too. And I know there's a lot that's been written about, "Well, millennials haven't been given what they were promised," as far as, "If you get this degree, you'll have a good job." And that hasn't turned out to be true.
Cameron McAllister: Right.
Nathan Rittenhouse: And we believe, whether it's true or not, that we're not going to be as well off as our parents when they were our age. And that sort of unmet expectation is a cause of despair. But then there's a lot here, too, that I think is very helpful and very healthy, and something that I'm excited about as I speak to young people as we travel around. And that is, sort of, backing up, and asking some of those bigger questions about what the good life actually is. Now, this can be taken too far, because you can't always follow your passion. You got to pay the bills while you do that. And so you need to follow the opportunity rather than your passion before you get set up a little bit.
But that zoom back, and, maybe you can chime in whether you've seen this or not, is that you do see a generation of people who is pulling back from, not necessarily consumerism or capitalism, those are still entrenched parts of the way in which we, economically, view the world. But they aren't seen as the end-all, be-alls that they maybe once were. And so it's not abnormal to find somebody who grew up in a very nice, very stable, very financially well-to-do household who says, "You know what? That type of drive and pursuit of just the numbers on the paycheck is not a satisfactory life."
And so there's this simultaneous ability to say, "You know what? It's not about the speed of my boat at my lake house, but about the meaning and the purpose, and do I find satisfaction and fulfillment in the things that I do?" And so there's a bit of a challenge there, too, that I think is a helpful thing that this generation is looking into. I think that's a good thing as we wrestle with suffering, but also as we wrestle with pleasure, it's going to make us slow down and ask some bigger life questions about why we're doing stuff in the first place.
Cameron McAllister: Yeah. I would agree. I think that's been my experience too. Nathan, I think you've mentioned ... You put it well when you said, as we've traveled around particularly on university campuses, and we've done talks and open forums, Q and A's. And, really, mainly, afterwards just talking to students, that you've seen a shift in questions. And they're not so much the, "Is Christianity true?" But they more in the, "Is Christianity good? Does it lead to a good life? Does it make us good human beings?"
So, less theoretical questions, and much more existential questions. I have definitely seen that. And I think because of the limitations of affluence, if you will. We're seeing those in such sharp relief. I think a lot of people are asking these questions. I've heard it as well. And so I do think there's a lot of hopeful trends here, as well, in the sense that people are longing for those real conversations. They're longing for real community. They're longing for a real fulfilling, holistic, good life. And good life actually is a tremendously loaded phrase, and, I mean, very powerful as well.
And I'm seeing especially young people, you're not getting eye rolls with this stuff anymore. They're really willing to talk about it very seriously, even if they find the notion of going into a church initially very, very repugnant, or off-putting. I think there's a real sense in which people are recognizing, "We need to recover a perspective that we've lost. And there's got to be more to life. There's got to be more, and we need to look for it." And people are listening. And so I actually have said this quite a bit. People are desperate for these conversations. They actually want to talk to you about what you believe.
They do actually want to talk to you about your spiritual life. They really do. I think a lot of us are hesitant and a little gun shy, because we think, "Well, I don't want to be invasive and impose that on people." But the more ... Nathan and I have to do this a lot. And people love to talk about this, especially younger people as well. And the conversations have been really healthy and really encouraging. So I think, yeah, for all the hand-ringing that you see online, and otherwise, there's a lot of really good stuff happening as well. And I think we can, as Christians, in particular, we can take this an opportunity to really look with compassion, but also to be courageous in pursuing those conversations, to inviting these people into our homes, and showing them. Not just talking about it, but showing them the way of Christ. And showing them, tangibly, that what Jesus said when he says, "Whoever wished to save his life will lose it. But whoever loses his life for my sake will gain it." Showing them, tangibly, that that's real. That a life devoid of self-sacrifice, a life lived only for self-gratification is empty, it won't lead anywhere other than loneliness and isolation. But that if we're actually made by Christ for Christ, if we live selflessly for God and for others, you actually find yourself as you do that. So, yeah, there's a lot of sobering stuff here. A lot of encouraging stuff, too.
Nathan Rittenhouse: So I think to kind of give the scriptural boundaries of everything that you just said there, that couple versus that are helpful for us as we look at how we live well and balance from a Biblical perspective is you have on, one hand, second Thessalonians passage, "If you don't work, you don't eat."
Cameron McAllister: Yeah.
Nathan Rittenhouse: So that's one extreme. But then you also have Jesus saying, "What does it profit a man to gain the whole world and lose his soul?" And so it's right-
Cameron McAllister: Therein lies the balance. Yeah.
Nathan Rittenhouse: ... therein lies the balance of what Christ calls us to, to live well as a Christian in our culture, but then to live a satisfied life as a member of the kingdom of God. And so that's the direction that I'm encouraged and think we're heading.
Cameron McAllister: Well, thanks so much guys, for listening to this long and meandering conversation on a topic that may have ruffled your feathers a little bit, but we hope it's actually been instructive, interesting, and well, even fun. Maybe that's a bit audacious. But thank you so much for tuning in. You've been listening to Thinking Out Loud. A podcast where we talk about current events and Christian
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