Living: Proceeding With Caution

The twentysomething generation is balking at work, marriage and baby-boomer values. Why are today's young adults so skeptical?

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The new generation pines for a romanticized past when the issues were clear and the troops were committed. "The kids of the 1960s had it easy," claims Gavin Orzame, 18, of Berrien Springs, Mich. "Back then they had a war and the civil rights movement. Now there are so many issues that it's hard to get one big rallying point." But because the '60s utopia never came, today's young adults view the era with a combination of reverie and revulsion. "What was so great about growing up then anyway?" says future physician Bruno. "The generation that had Vietnam and Watergate is going to be known for leaving us all their problems. They came out of Camelot and blew it."

Such views are revisionist, since the '60s were not easy, and the revolution did not end in utter failure. The twentysomething generation takes for granted many of the real goals of the '60s: civil rights, the antiwar movement, feminism and gay liberation. But those movements never coalesced into a unified crusade, which is something the twentysomethings hope will come along, break their lethargy and goad them into action. One major cause is the planet; 43% of the young adults in the TIME/CNN poll said they are "environmentally conscious." At the same time, some young people are joining the ranks of radical-action groups, including ACT UP, the AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power, and Trans-Species Unlimited, the animal-rights group. These organizations have appeal because they focus their message, choose specific targets and use high- stakes pressure tactics like civil disobedience to get things accomplished quickly.

For a generation that has witnessed so much failure in the political system, such results-oriented activism seems much more valid and practical. Says Sean McNally, 20, who headed the Earth Day activities at Northwestern University: "A lot of us are afraid to take an intense stance and then leave it all behind like our parents did. We have to protect ourselves from burning out, from losing faith." Like McNally, the rest of the generation is doing what it can. Its members prefer activities that are small in scope: cleaning up a park over a weekend or teaching literacy to underprivileged children.


Young adults need role models and leaders, but the twentysomething generation has almost no one to look up to. While 58% of those in the TIME/CNN survey said their group has heroes, they failed to agree on any. Ronald Reagan was most often named, with only 8% of the vote, followed by Mikhail Gorbachev (7%), Jesse Jackson (6%) and George Bush (5%). Today's young generation finds no figures in the present who compare with such '60s-era heroes as John F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King. "It seems there were all these great people in the '60s," says Kasi Davidson, 18, of Cody, Wyo. "Now there is nobody."

Today's potential leaders seem unable to maintain their stature. They have a way of either self-destructing or being decimated in the press, which trumpets their faults and foibles. "The media don't really give young people role models anymore," says Christina Chinn, 21, of Denver. "Now you get role models like Donald Trump and all of the moneymakers -- no one with real ideals."


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