When a Pandemic Exposes a Generation

Lately, I’ve felt like I’m living in a terrible version of a middle school library book. You know, the ones where the character has two choices and you can flip to the corresponding page to see what the consequences are. Will I be okay? Will everyone I love be okay? Will the market ever recover? When will I be able to go back to my apartment? To my job? To my reality?

I’m far from alone. All over the world, the playing field has suddenly been leveled. There is no age, no ethnicity, no gender, no wealth bracket safe from the disease; and certainly no one spared from the economic collateral. Our leaders are being tested, and our systems face unprecedented stress. In the face of such uncertainty, disruption, and isolation it is hard to visualize life a few days from now, much less months or years.

Despite the stress of the past few weeks and the long road ahead, I can’t help but wonder if there may be unexpected benefits of a global pause. When, if ever, have we been forced to stop at such scale? While the economic consequences are admittedly frightening, the social implications are more cause for curiosity. Strife has a way of exposing the worst and best in society, leaving the potential to emerge stronger and more grateful than ever.

Millennials have been consistently criticized as a generation of privileged, weak, and lazy individuals. We are “too emotional,” “too sensitive,” “too selfish,” “too shallow and social media obsessed.” As a millennial myself, I vacillate between being defensive about these characterizations and agreeing with them. But in this moment, I cannot help but pause to consider all my generation has been through at such a young age.

We were the generation born in the post-9/11 world, raised by technology. We were the generation educated in a world of unprecedented gun violence, welcomed to the work force during the recession. We were the generation to elect the first black president, and we will be the generation to survive a pandemic.

The way we emerge from the COVID-19 crisis will set the tone for our future. There is no longer any amount of strife separating our legacy from that of the “Greatest Generation.” The challenge is here. This is our opportunity to prove our strength, to expose and fix the radicalism and partisanship on both sides of our government. This is our chance to rebuild our systems, revisit our assumptions, and demand more from our leaders and each other. This is our time to come together and live not just in a globalized world, but a united one. And no, I’m not an optimist. But I know an opportunity when I see one.

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