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On Harry Potter vs. Luke Skywalker Heroism

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By Larry Harris, Jr. on September 16, 2011

Anyone who knows me should know that I am a huge fan of the Millennial Generation, those of us born between 1978-1998. I became a student of generational culture while I was working with college students in Boston through my nonprofit, United Leaders. We had the author of Millennials Rising — a ground-breaking book about our generation — speak at our program one summer. Millennials are the United States’ generation of idealism and service. Leaders in the private, public and nonprofit sectors have spent tons of money studying us, finding ways to appeal to us and bring us into the existing paradigm.

But, do we really fit in the existing paradigm, or will the status quo have to change for us? Millennials are the most diverse, will be the most college educated and are the most active generation in United States history. More than 80 percent of our college students participate in some form of community service while in college. Many go on to dedicate a year or more of their lives to public service after college through programs like Teach For America (TFA), an Americorps program that trains and sends college graduates to teach in under-served, underfunded communities.

Our generation seems to shun the traditional model of heroism and leadership. We prefer public service over politics. We prefer social entrepreneurs over politicians. We prefer indie culture over super-corporate culture. And, overall, we prefer Harry Potter to Luke Skywalker. 

As one of the oldest Millennials, I have a ton of experience with both Luke and Harry. I loved the Star Wars series, and I love the Harry Potter movies.

I read an argument that supported the theory that Harry Potter does not have the appropriate values to be a hero. Potter and Skywalker, both “chosen ones,” come to their heroism in quite different ways. Luke has to labor for his trophy. He is plucked out of poverty, enlists in the military and leaves to train with a Jedi master, only to later find out that he is a prince and will fulfill the universal prophecy.

Harry Potter, on the other hand, is thrown into celebrity nearly from the outset of his story via the legend of his victory over Lord Voldemort. He is trained at an elite school (that looks just like Ivy League school University of Pennsylvania’s campus in Philly). He is encouraged by the elders and told that others do not understand him or his power, but to remain steadfast in his heroism.

Some argue that the Harry Potter brand of heroism represents a sense of entitlement in our generation. Further, they’d argue that this lack of work ethic and traditional values is reflective of a damaging trend amongst us. But, hold on. All of the leading research I’ve read and what I’ve presented here about Millennials says that we are more dedicated to serving our country than our predecessors. Yes, perhaps we are privileged to have all of the advances of world progress at our fingertips. But, if we are so privileged and entitled, why all the public service?

I have an idea: Conventional wisdom in generational theory is that each generation is sort of a “reaction” to the previous. That’s not an exact science. Gen X has a lot in common with the Baby Boomers. Millennials aren’t much like Boomers at all. We reject many conventional norms, established structures and cultural values embraced by the Boomers and Gen X.

Boomers are the “black & white” generation. Their entire plight is cast as the struggle between “good & evil” or “what is right” vs. “what is wrong.” They are traditional partisan political actors. Crossfire, the old cable news debate show, is a good representation of Baby Boom problem solving. Boomers get down in the bunker of their opinion and fire sound bites, spin and cynicism at the enemy. When you think Boomer, think Al Gore, George W. Bush, Bill Clinton, Bill Gates and Donald Trump.

Growing up, I thought I was part of Gen X. I’m on the cusp, because I’m an old Millennial, but I’d be a super young member of Gen X. Now, I don’t identify with Gen X much. Gen X is cast as a selfish generation of liberal arts degree-waving waiters. They sought the quick millions of the Dot Com Boom. And, while the media spent a lot of time painting Gen X as a sort of counter culture generation, I find that they mostly just play by the rules. Gen X learned how to participate in politics, business, etc as apprentices to the Boomers. Gen X is more likely to believe in the more traditional levers of social change and models of entrepreneurship that Boomers abused. When you think Gen X, think Tucker Carlson, Cory Booker, the Google guys, Sillicon Valley microchip nerds and Janeane Garofalo.

I have nothing against either generation. We’d not be here without them. But, I do think as Millennials come of age, we’d be well advised to learn from their mistakes and work to cast our generation in a different light. The media is quick to lump our attitude and values in with the perceived attitude of Gen X. That’ a mistake. Don’t believe the hype. We are Harry Potter, not Luke Skywalker. That’s not a bad thing.

Click Page 2 to find out where this similarities between Luke and Harry end and why the Millennials would be wise to embrace this brand of Potter Heroism to spell success…

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