A young adult talks with his peers in a quest to bridge the generation gap
By Jesus Puentes
If you had the opportunity to peer into a stranger’s heart, and see their desires, their fears, their hopes, their anguish, would you dare to take a look? Or, out of fear that you might actually care, would you turn away?
Well, right here in our Diocese, some of those familiar strangers are the young adults, the students and the workers (or work-less), those close to—or far from—the Church, the native-born and the Dreamers who belong here just the same. I wish to paint for you here the heart of a picture that we will slowly expand and color-in over time, the picture of these very people who are a part of our community.
As it turns out, it’s quite difficult to talk about the inner longings of people’s hearts if you don’t talk to those people, first. So I went out and spoke with 37 young adults from different parts of our Diocese, some of whom don’t consider themselves to be religious, and I asked them three questions:
1. “Can you tell me the top three longings of your heart?”
2. “If you had the entire previous generation of adults in front of you right now, what would you want them to know?”
3. “Assume the same audience. What would you ask them?”
At first glance, these questions may seem unrelated, but the answers I received all point to an image of what their hearts desire, and of the reality of their lives.
The most common responses to the first question were first, the desire for authentic and intimate interpersonal relationships, second, the desire to be a person of steadfast faith, third, the desire to belong in a community, fourth, the desire to understand one’s purpose in this life, and fifth, the desire to make a positive impact in the world now, and for future generations.
Over and over again, I would hear from them, “I want to have a family,” or, “I want to be with my family and friends.” The single biggest category of responses is what I deem to be the desire for loving relationships with other people, whether they are a future spouse, a group of friends, or one’s family. Perhaps this will come as a surprise to some, but people often associated this love with God in some way. The expressed desire to know God’s will, and to love Him and be loved by Him was prominent among the answers received, and was often connected in some way to the relationships they wish to have with others.
Looking at the second question of what they would want the previous generation of adults to know, the words of one of our participants perfectly sum up the first prominent theme: “I would want them to know that first, and foremost, I am grateful for all of the sacrifices, and things they have done to get society to where it is up until this point.” To our predecessors, living and dead, our young adults here, myself included, are grateful for you and the things you’ve done throughout your lives.
It should be noted here that this gratitude comes first from observing our own parents and grandparents, and noticing how they’ve strived to make the world better for us, even though, at times, and this is something we try to understand, it is difficult for some to express their love for their children in ways other than working. It is worthwhile to let you know that we are watching what you do, and want to learn from you.
By the same token, however, it is also worth noting here that our group of participants also notice our predecessors’ pointing out of others’ mistakes, but wonder if they see their own. Something that seems to really strike a nerve with our young adults is the perception of hypocrisy. Closely related to this is our participants’ call for tolerance of ideas and people different to oneself. This can branch off into a multitude of things, but the point here seems to be, not so much defending the merits of others’ ways of thinking or living, as it is to listen to people, and to not immediately exclude them from one’s life.
Remembering these two points, gratitude and tolerance, the final major theme that came out of this question, and what our young adults wish for our predecessors to know is that there is hope in our generation, and that we are doing everything we can to continue the valuable work they’ve started, and to pass on the good things they’ve given to us. What’s more, we want to become an inspiration for the generations that are still to come, as our forebearers have been for us. One cannot deny the sense of hopelessness that many young adults indeed feel, with the grave situations that many have to face here in our own country, and with the suffering that is more visibly sweeping across the world.
But there is also a spirit of hope among us, and it is one of the lights that carry us forth, by God’s grace. So you must know that the fight will not end with our refusal to continue.
The final question, “What would you ask the previous generation of adults,” brought about a particularly important point; there is a need for our different generations to enter into a dialogue. One person asks, “What is the hardest part about connecting with today’s generation of young adults?” This is so crucial to our conjoined efforts to bring about peace in the world, starting with our families. We, as a generation, need to know how to be more easily approachable, and how we should approach those that are older than us, so that we can begin to share our respective points of view, and truly grow with one another, not as independent particles that happen to crash into each other, but as an interdependent human family, and society.
This is but a glimpse into the heart of our young adults in the Diocese of San Bernardino. There is, of course, immense variation between individuals, but there are things that seem to thread through a great number of us, and I do believe that we have identified some of those points here: We are a generation that seeks loving human relationships; whether consciously or not, we seek God in our lives; we seek acceptance of people; we want to make an impact in the world that will benefit all, but especially future generations; finally, we seek to understand those that came before us. Do these things sound like they’re not entirely unique to young adults? Good! If you identify with any of this, then you’ve begun to make a human connection with an entire generation of young adults, and once you take a look into a person’s heart and find a bit of yourself there, suddenly the person’s life, hopes, fears, anguish, and joys matter more. You were forewarned: be prepared to care.
Jesus Puentes is a third year philosophy student at the University of California, Riverside and Volunteer Coordinator of Young Adult Ministry at St. Mary Parish, Fontana.