I am writing on my own behalf, and the thoughts and opinions expressed are my own and not necessarily those of the U.S. Government, Department of Defense, the U.S. Navy or the Navy Chaplain Corps.
Last week, I had the privilege of participating in the Army and Navy Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) commissioning ceremony at Old Dominion University. 69 young men and women raised their right hand and took the Oath to defend the Constitution of the United States of America and defend our nation. They were commissioned to serve as leaders, not to serve any one person or group, but to defend the principle that all are created equal and have a right to a life of freedom and liberty. These young, newly commissioned officers made a conscious choice, pledging to place themselves in harm’s way and dedicate their lives, even die if asked, for such an idea.
They are the 1%. And they have a lesson to teach us.
Statistics show that less than 1% of the United States’ population serves in the Armed Forces. They are the 1% in our country, and they come from the Millennial generation. Yet unlike their peers – the other 99% – they are not chiefly concerned with their individual entitlement to status in society or campaigning that they are bringing the gift of authenticity to the world. Instead, they simply raise their right hand, say a few words, and pledge to live out their military service as best they can, “So help them God.”
For those who oppose war, our military, and the use of it, what I am NOT saying is that we should glorify what these young men and women will do. They will give orders to take life; they will take life if it’s called on them to do so. And their military actions are done in the shadow of uncertain and questionable agendas. The sober truth is there is little glory in the reality of war. But we should glorify their choice. Their choice is a selfless one – it is a choice to serve, not to be served; a choice to sacrifice, not to demand; a choice for discomfort, not comfort; a choice to love others, not love themselves. These 69 men and women – the 1% – teach us that our obsession with the Millennial generation’s needs and demands is a real problem for our society and our world.
The problem is simply a power transfer; the power that Millennials criticize and accuse older generations (Boomers, Silent) of misusing for their own gain is simply being shifted to the Millennials to misuse just the same. No matter how “noble” they think the cause, the problem still remains: the cancer that is individualism in our society – but individualism gone wrong. It is individualism poisoned with egotism and self-centeredness and self-preservation. It is this individualism that corrupts the ideals and values we hold dear: liberty, freedom, prosperity, justice, community and love. It is this individualism that causes us to demand to be heard at the expense of others and at the same time allow us to delude ourselves as pious champions in the cause for the marginalized. Individualism in this way turns us into power-seeking madmen that must destroy the opposition with that power. It is that extreme view of individualism and our obsession with it that makes the 1% who serve in the Armed Forces necessary in the first place. That is what is behind the Millennial Obsession leaders in every institution are desparately trying to tap into…..and that Millennial opportunists are quick to peddle to all who will listen.
I don’t discount the need for an increased sense of integrity in our society and its institutions. On that, I’ll agree with majority Millennials. But integrity is a choice, not a set of credentials. Integrity comes not from the acquisition of power, but rather the choice to do what is right even at the cost of oneself. I am reminded of this passage from the Book of Romans in the Bible,
“And not only that, but we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that
suffering produces endurance,
and endurance produces character,
and character produces hope,
and hope does not disappoint us,” (Rom. 5:3-5a)
The 69 men and women – the 1%, and Millennials themselves – who joined our Army, Navy, and Marine Corps teach us that the real hope for our world comes when we turn away from manic individualism and instead choose a life of service and sacrifice for something greater than ourselves. True hope is realized only through an integrity that gives the courage to willingly suffer and endure – agenda free and with no reservation of the heart.