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Courtney E. Martin on How to Make the World a Better Place

Courtney E. Martin is a senior correspondent for the American Prospect and an editor of A 2002 recipient of the Elie Wiesel Prize in Ethics, she is the author of Perfect Girls, Starving Daughters, coauthor of The Naked Truth, and coeditor of Click. Her work frequently appears in the Christian Science Monitor, Alternet, and Publishers Weekly, among other publications. She lives in Brooklyn. The following is from a post on Alternet adapted from her new book, Do It Anyway: The New Generation of Activists.

Save the world.

Where were you the first time you heard those three little words?

It’s a phrase that has slipped off the tongues of hippie parents and well-intentioned teachers with a sort of cruel ease for the last three decades. In Evangelical churches and Jewish summer camps, on 3-2-1 Contact and Dora the Explorer, even on MTV, we (America’s youth) have been charged with the vaguest and most ethically dangerous of responsibilities: save the world. But what does it really mean? What has it ever really meant -- when uttered by moms and ministers, by zany aunts and debate coaches -- to save the whole wildly complex, horrifically hypocritical, overwhelmingly beautiful world?

Social scientists and the media seems to have made an ugly habit in the last few years of labeling my generation as entitled, self absorbed, and apathetic. Psychologist Jean M. Twenge argues that, largely because of the boom in self-esteem education in the '80s and '90s, young people today “speak the language of the self as their native tongue,” in her book Generation Me: Why Today's Young Americans Are More Confident, Assertive, Entitled -- and More Miserable Than Ever Before. Tom Friedman dubbed us Generation Q for quiet in the pages of The New York Times, writing, “Generation Q may be too quiet, too online, for its own good, and for the country’s own good.” And morning shows can’t resist a segment on how entitled Gen Y is in the workplace and what their bosses can do to tame their positively gargantuan egos.

I think they’ve got it wrong. They’re missing a class analysis. And they’ve mistaken symptoms for the disease. We are not, on the whole, entitled, self absorbed, and apathetic. We’re overwhelmed, empathic, and paralyzed. The privileged among us, are told over and over that it is our charge to “save the world,” but once in it, we realize that it’s not so simple. The less privileged are gifted their own empty rhetoric -- American Dream ideology that charges them with, perhaps not necessarily saving the whole damn world, but at the very least saving their families, their countries, their honor. We are the most educated, most wanted, most diverse generation in American history, and we are also the most conscious of complexity. Read the rest at Alternet.