Let’s Listen for a Minute: Thoughts on the Charlie Gard Debate

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People around the world heard the heartbreaking tale of Charlie Gard and instantly began forming opinions. The infant, who was born with a genetic defect called Mitochondrial DNA Depletion Syndrome, became the subject of numerous news stories and angry rants as his case wound its way through the British legal system. No matter what conclusions people reached, it quickly became clear that we all had more opinions than knowledge.

The crux of the case had to do with whether Charlie’s parents would be allowed to take him to the United States for an experimental treatment. Charlie is currently on life support as a result of his illness. The controversy arose when his parents sought to have the hospital release him into their custody so that they could attempt to secure the treatment for their son. The UK hospital had previously determined that nothing could be done for Charlie, and obtained a judgment from the court allowing them to remove him from life support. A battle ensued as Charlie’s parents sought to keep Charlie on life support long enough to pursue the experimental treatment.

Ultimately, as reported by CNN, the Gard’s withdrew their legal contest after the latest medical evidence showed that the proposed treatment would have little, if any, effect on Charlie’s advanced disease. As of this writing, the Gards are attempting to persuade the court to allow them to take their child home to live out his final moments.

As we often see during these highly public fights involving terminal illness and life support, public opinion surrounding Charlie Gard’s case became incredibly polarized. Some viewed the right of Charlie’s parents to fight for treatment as paramount. Others favored the hospital’s prerogative to withdraw life support from what it had considered to be a terminal patient. Both sides have fair arguments, and I cannot attempt to come to any useful conclusion within the bounds of one blog post.

However, this may be a instance in which both sides have such good points that we just need to step aside and listen. That is why these problems are incredibly difficult. It’s very easy to say “Can’t they just be cool and let the parents take their son to the U.S. for treatment?” But it’s also fair to acknowledge the fact that families are often highly reluctant to take their loved ones off life support if there is even a one-in-a-million chance that a radical treatment could save them. Even though we would all jump at these odds when presented with the alternative, it puts the medical system in a tough spot if they comply with all of these wishes. If hospitals provide resources, and all doctors involved have agreed that a patient is terminal, when is it moral for a hospital to discontinue life support?

These questions involve highly technical issues of law and medicine. Further, they require experience with a patient that very relatively few people have ever seen in person. Yet, we all feel the need to violently opine on a matter that we do not understand. Even the vast majority of doctors and lawyers have not read Charlie’s file. Unless we are actually familiar with the case, how can any of us say what the definitive answer is? We don’t know his lab values, and most of us don’t know anything about his disease.

I am certainly nowhere near qualified to give an opinion on Charlie Gard’s case. However, I do realize that problems of medical ethics are rarely easy. It’s good to listen to the opinions of experts, as those will likely be the next best thing to the opinions of the actual treating physicians. Apart from that, it’s about time we acknowledged how little we know. We need to see how important it is to sit back and take in the facts rather than jumping to conclusions based on headlines. If we don’t, we risk looking like the fools we become when we ignore the complexities of a difficult social issue.

Mom’s Lessons on Politics: Two Wrongs Don’t Make a Right

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In the wake of the recent American presidential election, we have seen politics become more polarized than perhaps any other time in history. People have dug in their heels, and are not prepared to budge on any issue. Even the seemingly minor political points have turned into life-or-death debates for fear of losing precious ground. In all fairness, we have brought this on ourselves. Minor political points now have life-or-death consequences. Federal judges were once largely confirmed unanimously. Now, the Senate has gone nuclear just to confirm a conservative Supreme Court justice. What will come next?

However, I fear we have now valued these small political victories too highly. Are our political platforms worth anything if we have to turn our backs on our values just to score a win? Both sides of the aisle have burned extreme amounts of territory simply to scorn each other. Certainly, politics have always been dirty. But with the introduction of 24-hour news and instant access to political opinion and rhetoric, it is much easier to abuse the processes we once held sacred. We have seen countless examples of this somewhat recent trend.

Let’s take, for instance, the recent fat-shaming of the current president. In fact, it seems that even Pope Francis himself may have felt the need to comment on the weight of our new commander-in-chief. Whether one is a fan of the current administration or not, society has taken a turn against fat-shaming as of late. And why shouldn’t it have? In our heart of hearts, we can agree that it is not a nice thing to make fun of someone’s weight. Yet, it’s okay for people to make fun of the president’s weight? Why? I think for most people, the answer is something to the effect of, “Well, he has brought it on himself by the way he treats other people.”

Perhaps the current leader of the free world has not engendered much sympathy with his Twitter rants and questionable choice of political rhetoric. But most of our mothers taught us that two wrongs don’t make a right. Who are we to disagree? Also, if there is genuinely so much wrong with the administration, shouldn’t there be plenty of fodder to attack on the merits? Perhaps cheap shots are just easier for people. They always have been. My point here is not that people are necessarily deserving of sympathy despite behaving in reprehensible ways. Rather, we do ourselves a disservice by stooping to such low levels.

This is a relatively brief post because I believe the topic is one that most of us actually agree on. People, for the most part, are well aware that it’s better to be kind to people than it is to be mean. But we need to realize that vitriolic rhetoric poisons philosophies as well as individuals. Can we really stand up and be proud to call ourselves liberals, conservatives, or anything else, if we abandon those values in pursuit of petty posturing? I think we all know that answer to that.

Millennials and the Paralysis of Choice

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Millennials have been accused of being incredibly indecisive as a whole. More and more, the perception of our generation as being wayward and non-committal is poisoning our professional image. However, this stereotype seems to have a kernel of truth. We’re certainly not lazy. We can’t afford to be. But some of us have a certain amount of difficulty deciding what we want to do with our lives. I wanted to offer a few thoughts on the origin of this phenomenon.

First, millennials lack the established career pipelines that members of previous generations had available to them. The old proverb of the hard-working person who went from the mailroom to the boardroom is no longer realistic. The entire idea of “working your way up” is less and less feasible. Between an overwhelming lack of social mobility and the overall lower availability of high-paying jobs, it’s hard to see the light at the end of the tunnel. Therefore, we are forced to blaze our own paths. Those paths are riddled with conditionals, “what-ifs”, and self-doubt. Each turn requires a completely new analysis. This constant assessment is overwhelming, and can cause us to take longer to decide what would fully satisfy us in a career.

This is not to say that the above approach is always the right way to handle things. We could certainly afford to make some choices faster rather than making an entire decision tree for every aspect of our lives. But, despite all that, we certainly cannot be accused of not thinking things through when it comes to big-picture decisions. We just may not be arriving at those conclusions as quickly as our parents might like us to.

Second, we were raised differently than previous generations. I personally believe our parents were raised with the idea that they ultimately were not that important in the grand scheme of things. This lack of self-confidence led them to push down their natural curiosity and settle for stable rather than personally fulfilling careers. Our parents did not want us to feel the way that they were made to feel. As with many rebellions, some went too far. They told us we could do anything. They told us we were the best. High self-esteem is certainly something worth pursuing, but it can lead us to think we would be perfectly suited for any career. Our ability to self-select has therefore decreased substantially. The bevy of options we perceive as being available to us leads us to take more time to pick one.

Third, many of us have access to resources that our parents and grandparents could not even dream of. While poverty still runs rampant and income inequality is growing, many families have become the beneficiaries of those who were able to “make it out” decades ago. Factory workers had kids who scratched and clawed their way medical school or law school. The sons and daughters of those doctors and lawyers were given the proverbial world. Many of them had their college paid for and were told to pick careers that were fulfilling rather than high-paying. That advice was absolutely solid, but it led to unrealistic expectations for many of us. We had to learn the value of a dollar on our own, and that lesson took longer to sink in. None of that, of course, is necessarily our fault. It’s also not our parents’ fault. Rather, it’s a disease of plenty that takes time to work through. Our perceived indecisiveness is merely a symptom, not a permanent disability. We’ll get there.

All of this is to say that we millennials are working our way through relatively uncharted territory. If the rest of society could put itself in our shoes for a minute and realize that we inherited a completely different world than previous generations did, maybe they would understand us a little more. In any event, writing us off as flaky and irresolute is neither productive nor fair. The characteristics that older generations seek in us certainly cannot be cultivated by shaming us into conforming. We will forge our own path, and we will do it in our own time. Until then, we just need a minute.

7 Reasons Millennials Aren’t Getting Married

Being recently married, I could not help but think that relatively few of my friends have taken that next step. Some haven’t found the right person, and others are in long-term relationships, but don’t feel the need to get married. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it’s certainly a visible trend. I’m not the only one who’s noticing. Millennials are getting married at a far lower rate than previous generations. Here are 7 reasons why:

 

1. WE CAN’T AFFORD IT

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Let’s face it: Marriage is expensive. Unless you were blessed with a high-paying job or relatives who can afford to pay for a large portion of your wedding, chances are you’re going to struggle a bit to come up with the money. And that’s just for the ceremony. Many millennials are saying that they are delaying marriage because the ring is too expensive. No matter where you turn, marriage costs money.

 

2. WE NEED TO FOCUS ON OUR CAREERS

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Millennials inherited one of the most crushingly depressing job markets since the Great Depression. Luckily for us, it came just in time for so many of us to graduate from college and attempt to fare for ourselves in the real world. With the millstone of student loans tied to our necks, we have to do everything we can to try to keep any job we manage to secure. With job security being more the exception than the rule these days, it takes time to feel comfortable enough with your professional life to even consider settling down.

 

3. WE DON’T FEEL THE NEED TO SIGN ON THE DOTTED LINE

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The fact that millennials aren’t getting married in droves doesn’t mean that the idea of romance has died with our generation. Many of us are in fulfilling, long-term relationships. Tinder hasn’t completely destroyed our ability to commit. But we’ve all seen it fail, and we’ve seen the disastrous consequences that come with that failure. Rather than put everything on the line, millennials are choosing to remain in long-term relationships without marrying. The idea of entering into a contractual relationship that involves the government just isn’t all that attractive to large swaths of our generation. Who knew?

 

4. WE’RE SAVING FOR SOMETHING

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As I mentioned above, marriage is expensive. Many of us feel that we can’t have a meaningful wedding ceremony if we can’t even afford a car to drive ourselves to the reception. Living paycheck to paycheck doesn’t lend itself well to laying down thousands of dollars for wedding cake and DJs. The down payment on that new car is just so much more appealing, and understandably so.

 

5. WE’RE NOT DONE BEING YOUNG

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Marriage represents a substantial step toward full-fledged adulthood and independence. Many of us just aren’t ready to admit to ourselves that our young adulthood is over. Sure, young adults get married all the time. But there is a certain, if not fully describable, change that happens when you take the plunge. Some people just are not ready to give up the late-night Netflix binges and pizza runs. There’s nothing wrong with that. Millennial, know thyself.

 

6. WE DON’T HAVE HOUSES

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Marriage allows you to hold yourself out to the world as a family unit. But home ownership is one of the things that previous generations have come to associate with marriage. Once seen as a pillar of fully-developed adulthood, a house has traditionally been viewed as the ideal place to develop your identity as a married couple and to start a family. But many millennials cannot afford a house. Further, many have no interest in owning a home and assuming the various costs that come with it. As a result, it could be difficult to make the commitment that marriage entails without a home base to call your own.

 

7. WE WANT TO SEE THE WORLD

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The world is more connected than ever before. We can see images of the Eiffel Tower with the click of a mouse, and travel around the world virtually with Google Maps. But rather than quenching the inherent human need for exploration, technology feeds the craving. We want to go and experience the great places we see on the internet day in and day out. In the minds of many millennials, marriage represents the end of one’s ability to travel anywhere on a whim. It’s difficult to give that up.

Millennials: What Industry Are We “Killing” This Time?

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Predicting market trends is an incredibly difficult science. These prognostications can make the difference between happy shareholders and a change in executive management. This is why companies spend hundreds of millions of dollars on advertisements designed to absorb as much of your disposable income as possible. Millennials present one of the biggest opportunities for advertising in recent memory. But the tantalizing aspect of marketing to millennials is its exact undoing: We’re not one large chunk of people that all enjoy the same thing.

Millennials are defined as being born in the 1980s or 1990s. Just take a second to imagine how gaping that chasm is. It’s bigger than the difference between dressing like Eddie Murphy in “Raw” and dressing like Kurt Cobain in his prime. These two groups of people do not want all the same things. If we are to take the definition of “millennial” literally, two people born in 1980 and 1999 are in the same generation. One of those people probably has a couple of kids and a stable career. The other is a seventeen or eighteen year-old college freshman who is still trying to figure out what she wants to do with her life.

All of this is to say that “millennials” can’t really “do” any one thing, properly speaking. We’ve all seen the articles claiming to know what industries millennials are propping up or killing. Everything from restaurants to golf to home ownership, we’ve seen it all. But this is the exact problem with treating millennials as a monolith. Some of us are running companies. Others of us are fighting with our college roommates. We’re not all the same. I’m certainly not advocating for sub-generations (although that may be more inevitable than optional at this point), but something has to give.

Rather, we need to wake up to the fact that being a millennial means different things to different people. To some of us, it automatically connotes social awkwardness and quirkiness (no self-reference intended!). But others think it means moving past the sins of our predecessors and carving out our own niche in this changing world. Just remember, “millennials” are not killing anything. We can’t all be seduced with one glitzy ad designed to titillate our singular sensibility. Each of us possesses our own power, and the only thing we will all do is use it as we please.

Refinance Your Avocado Toast

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In May 2017, Australian millionaire Tim Gurner criticized millennials for spending too much money on expensive delicacies, such as smashed avocados and pricy coffees. His thoughts on the subject were roundly mocked, and rightly so. He clearly believes that material success in middle age requires substantial discomfort and sacrifice in your teens and early twenties. To him, this was the lynchpin of his own affluence, and the lesson must be universal.

But the question remains: Did Tim Gurner really never buy something for more than he should have? Would all of his struggles have been for naught if he had opted for the extra shot of espresso in his latte? That $0.60 really makes the difference between millionaire status and mediocrity, doesn’t it? This is all, of course, to say that Gurner’s stance is ridiculous and presents a solution for a problem that doesn’t really exist.

I know that I would have more money left over at the end of the month if I didn’t splurge on my occasional overpriced mixture of coffee and processed sugar. But what kind of life would I have if I didn’t indulge in the “nicer things”? It’s not as though I buy the most expensive bottle of whiskey in a bar or reserve every table in a restaurant so my friends and I can eat in peace. Most people I know wouldn’t do these things even if they had the money.

We should all be more aware of our disposable income, and strive to use it responsibly. (Or better yet, save it!) All of us could benefit from a greater level of financial literacy. Only a fool would say that he truly has nothing to learn. However, millennials are hardly the first generation that could use some discipline when it comes to saving and spending money. Many of our parents went into extreme levels of debt to afford the sort of lifestyle they felt they deserved as a result of their hard work. They took out loans for fancy cars and other luxuries, and helped to cause a worldwide economic crisis in the process

In fact, that same crisis helped to fuel the recession that left many of us in a position where a $4.50 coffee feels like a luxury. That combined with the skyrocketing cost of a university education and the need to take out student loans to even have a chance at an elite degree leaves us with nowhere to turn for that visceral rush of living slightly outside of our means. Instead of buying a house or an expensive car on a whim, we settle for coffees and avocado toast. In summary, if the Baby Boomers and Gen X would be willing to go back in time and prevent their irresponsible purchases from causing the Great Recession, we would gladly refuse to buy avocados for the rest of our natural-born lives.

“I’m Fine. Just Tired.”

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Millennials are one of the most derided generations in recent memory. People have called us everything from lazy and entitled to overeager and idealistic. Certainly the phenomenon of older people criticizing “the youths” is nothing new. But something unique has caught on among our nebulous group. We always seem to be tired. No matter when or how we are asked, we have become very adept at conveying our fatigue.

How many times have you found yourself in the following situation? You’re talking to a friend, and they notice you seem a little down. Truth be told, it probably has not been the best day for you. Maybe you had to work overtime. Maybe your boss was more of a jerk today than usual. So your friend says, “Hey, are you okay?” What is your response?

Nothing truly abnormal happened. You might be in a rut, but you don’t want to seem like you’re complaining. You know your friend probably has her own stuff going on. You say, “I’m fine. Just tired.” Just like that, your friend moves on and goes about her day. That part of the conversation is closed off until your friend works up enough courage to try to get you to reveal what’s really bothering you.

In your defense, you might actually be tired. We are, after all, overworked and underpaid. But are you really using the word “tired” as a catch-all for a bunch of other emotions and experiences? For me, “tired” can mean: frustrated, depressed, purposeless, angry, love-struck, smitten, confused, or anything else I may be feeling in the moment. So, is it fair to combine all of these qualifiers into the admittedly ambiguous basket of “tired”?

The answer is: Probably not. The people we love ask us how we are doing out of more than a mere sense of obligation. In fact, that’s what makes them different than the guy in the elevator who grunts a halfhearted “How ya doin’?” between the first and fourth floors. But we also don’t call ourselves “tired” out of a desire to mislead the people we care about. Quite the contrary. We do it so that they don’t worry about us. We do it so that we can trick ourselves into thinking that everything would be perfect if we had just gotten that extra hour of sleep. In all fairness, maybe it would be.

Even though we wish we could be perfectly honest with everyone all the time, this has become something of a functional white lie. It’s the same thing as when people say “good” when you ask how they’re doing today. Chances are, more than a few of those people aren’t doing so well, but say “good” anyway. Why? They don’t want to make a big deal out of their own strife. Even though our own suffering is of the utmost importance to our own minds, most of us know that the trivial bumps and bruises that we all pick up on an average day ultimately don’t warrant an explanation to someone who has their own stuff to deal with.

At the end of it all, it helps to have this out in the open. Just know that “I’m fine. Just tired.” probably really means “I’m not thrilled with exactly how I feel right now, but I’m not in any sort of trouble and there’s really no reason for you to worry about me.” I, for one, know that I say I’m “just tired” all the time, and I’m trying my best to avoid it out of fear of evading deeper problems. But be aware that the person using that phrase is probably going through something that is lower than the threshold of the need to explain it. They might be coming down with something, or simply not feeling the best. In short: They’re fine. Just tired.