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Rev. Peter J. Gomes: A Message for Millennials About a Good Life Well Lived

“In this generation the search for goodness, both institutional and personal, has reappeared as a defining characteristic in young people’s renewed search for the good life.” Rev. Peter J. Gomes was referring to the Millennial Generation in his book “The Good Life.”

Rev. Peter J. Gomes

“In this generation the search for goodness, both institutional and personal, has reappeared as a defining characteristic in young people’s renewed search for the good life.” Rev. Peter J. Gomes was referring to the Millennial Generation in his book The Good Life (2002).

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Rev. Gomes passed away yesterday. With the perspective of four decades of service as a minister and professor at Harvard University, he recognized the particular qualities of Millennials. The question he heard his Millennial students ask was this: “What will it take for me to make a good life, and not merely a good living?”

In The Good Life, Rev. Gomes quoted from Millennials Rising: The Next Great Generation (Howe and Strauss, 2000) as follows:

As a group, Millennials are unlike any other youth generation in living memory. They are more numerous, more affluent, better educated, and more ethnically diverse. More important, they are beginning to manifest a wide array of positive social habits that older Americans no longer associate with youth, including a new focus on teamwork, achievement, modesty, and good conduct … Over the next decade, the Millennial Generation will entirely recast the image of youth from downbeat and alienated to upbeat and engaged–with potentially seismic consequences for America.

I share this view and enthusiasm about Millennials with perspective from my own work in volunteerism and service from the past few decades, and I recognize the power of the Millennial Generation’s passion for service in my book Leveraging Good Will (2005). Millennials became involved in volunteerism when they were in high school (and often earlier)–partly because it became an expectation in some schools, and ultimately because Millennials embraced volunteerism so fully on their own. Millennials brought their passion for service with them to college. Now, we are seeing Millennials bring their service values full force into industry, entrepreneurship, communities, and the world. Fast Company itself is a manifestation of the passions of the Millennial Generation, with an entire page devoted to Ethonomics in addition to most other blogs relating to making the world better in some way or another, including through technology and design.

A major cause in Rev. Gomes’ life was his passionate advocacy for tolerance. This followed his coming out as a homosexual in 1991 in response to gay bashing on campus. In August, 1992, The New York Times published an op-ed piece by Rev. Gomes objecting to ballot initiatives in Maine and Oregon to deny the protection of civil rights to gay men and women. He wrote as follows:

Opposition to gays’ civil rights has become one of the most visible symbols of American civil conflict this year, and religion has become the weapon of choice. The army of the discontented, eager for villains and simple solutions and ready for a crusade in which political self-interest and social anxiety can be cloaked in morality, has found hatred of homosexuality, to be the last respectable prejudice of the century.

I write this evening’s post in Rev. Gomes’ honor with gratitude for his teachings and inspiration. My final thoughts are in his own words from The Good Life:

The first lesson … having to do with living the good life is that life, however good, is finite, a limited resource, and that one does not have all the time in the world to discover what it is or how to live it. The first duty of self-awareness, therefore, is the knowledge of the fewness of one’s days.

Rev. Gomes lived a good life. And I’m glad that he had a chance to get to know the Millennials who “want to live so as to leave the world a better place.”

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About the author

Korngold provides strategy consulting to global corporations on sustainability, facilitating corporate-nonprofit partnerships, and training and placing hundreds of business executives on NGO/nonprofit boards for 20+ years. She provides strategy and board governance consulting to NGO/nonprofit boards, foundations, and educational and healthcare institutions. Korngold's latest book is "A Better World, Inc.: How Companies Profit by Solving Global Problems…Where Governments Cannot," published by Palgrave Macmillan for release on 1/7/14

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