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Confessions of a frenetic, hug-ready Millennial

How about that hug, Ita?

But it’s not all bad. The challenges we’ve faced as a generation have forced us to find resources to help us survive – not least of which are the rich friendships we’ve forged among ourselves, characterised by a kind of relentless vulnerability and openness which was possibly not as available to our Boomer parents.

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But forget terrorism or the GFC. Now we are facing a global pandemic that threatens our lives and livelihoods in ways we never could have imagined at the turn of the century.

For the first few months of COVID lockdown, my coping mechanism was walking. I traded in the metaphorical treadmill I’d been on so long for the literal suburban pavement. I walked in the mornings, at lunchtime, in the evenings, and sometimes even after dinner. The frequency was getting weird, as my best friend observed over the phone while I panted up a hill.

There are many possible explanations for the newfound addiction but, with the benefit of hindsight, I think the instinct I was fighting was the instinct to stop. Why? Because it’s not something my generation is accustomed to.

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The key is in the name – we Millennials are the epitome of what it means to live in the 21st century. Frenetic, ambitious, overwhelmed with information, never quite “present”, always moving and reaching for more. “Connected” to one another via our devices, and yet disconnected from one another in the ways that really matter. Given an idle minute, we’d instinctively reach for our phones – the socially condoned little addiction devices that endlessly beckon for our attention.

Rather than doing the difficult work of quiet self-reflection, we broadcast our thoughts through our social media megaphones. Rather than truly looking at ourselves, we post a selfie so others will look at us. The dirty dishes of our minds pile up, eternally deferred until a tomorrow that never comes, because we never stop.

Until now. In the COVID-era, stopping is all we can do. Instead of darting around the world, now we’re being asked to stay home. And sit still. And be with ourselves. It’s hard, because it’s anathema to the trajectory we had been on.

Of course, the pandemic hasn’t taken our phones away. But what it has taken is the illusion that any of it was getting us somewhere. That always reaching for “more” was actually adding to the quality of our lives, making us happier, or making the world a better place.

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Importantly, when Buttrose made her Millennial comments, she was careful to add that resilience seemed to be in short supply the world over. If that is the case, is it possible that low resilience is not the only Millennial trait that is trending?

Perhaps the fact that America elected a narcissist who loves TV, displays low resilience, is incapable of self-reflection, and is addicted to broadcasting his thoughts via Twitter says as much about the West and 21st century life as it does about Trump. After all, he’s not from outer space. Whether we like it or not, he was drawn from our culture.

Is there a little bit of Trump in all of us, not just Millennials? Possibly. And if so, the new pace and circumstances of COVID-life should afford us ample opportunity to clean up that part of ourselves. In being forced to stop, and connect back with ourselves, perhaps we will emerge from this crisis better able to connect with one another, and tackle the challenges that threaten us. With or without the hugs.

Erin Bassett works in media and communications.

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