Vanishing adulthood and political tribalism – these two issues define the problems we face in America today.
These two issues are intimately connected. Many young people today don’t engage with their world the way past generations did. They don’t get outside their comfort zone, and they don’t face real responsibility during their adolescence. Because of this, their worldview is limited. They are not challenged on their beliefs or to find purpose. So it should be no wonder that these unchallenged young people are hesitant to fully enter adulthood, and no wonder that they would choose a political ideology while failing to understand fellow Americans who don’t agree.
So what’s the solution? A service year could be the answer. Taking a year (or two) after high school or college would give young Americans a chance to live for others, and consider the transcendent meaning of living life in this way. Instead of immediately focusing on a career where personal enrichment and wealth are the dominating force, participants would have time to consider their ultimate desires and life purpose, while meeting many individuals who live lives that may be very different from their own, and learning from those differences.
Want to get inspired? Here are some celebrities from around the world who spent part of their youth in service of something bigger than themselves:
After attending a prestigious English prep school, the future actor moved to India for a unique experience – teaching English to Buddhist monks. Cumberbatch found his time spent in Darjeeling to be extremely rewarding: “They were amazingly warm, intelligent, humorous people. Hard to teach English to. I built a blackboard, which no other previous teachers seem to have done. With 12 monks in a room with an age-range of about 8 to 40, that’s quite important–and the reward-punishment thing of sweets or no sweets, or game or no game, worked quite well. But they taught me a lot more than I could possibly ever teach them.”
After 9/11, Adam Driver made a decision. While many of his high school classmates talked of joining the military to fight for their country, he was the only one who actually did it. He served in the Marine Corps for more than two and a half years, until a broken sternum led to a medical discharge. Life in the Marine Corps taught Driver some valuable lessons: “You miss the rigor, the discipline, the camaraderie…I think you become very aware, probably more than average people your age, that we’re all going to die. You’re aware of your own mortality, and also of how much you can accomplish in a day. Time is precious, and you don’t want to waste it.”
Before she was Wonder Woman, Gal Gadot spent her childhood in Israel and eventually served two years in the Israeli Defense Forces – required for all young people in Israel. Gal said of her time in the military: “You give two or three years, and it’s not about you. You learn discipline and respect.” Her armed forces experience even helped her land her first major movie role in Fast & Furious. “I think the main reason was that the director Justin Lin really liked that I was in the military, and he wanted to use my knowledge of weapons.”
Prince William & Prince Harry
Unlike young Israelis, British royals are not required to undertake military service – although many choose to do so. That includes Princes William and Harry. Prince William entered the military in 2005, ultimately serving for eight years in the British Army, Royal Air Force, Royal Navy, and as a pilot with Search and Rescue.
His brother Prince Harry also joined the British Army in 2005, and served for 10 years, becoming a Captain. He even served two tours on active duty in Afghanistan, causing a controversy in the UK. But Harry was determined to serve, declaring he would leave the military if he was not allowed to fight: “If they said ‘no, you can’t go front line’ then I wouldn’t drag my sorry ass through Sandhurst and I wouldn’t be where I am now. There’s no way I’m going to put myself through Sandhurst and then sit on my arse back home while my boys are out fighting for their country.”
Both princes also undertook non-military service early in their lives. William taught English in Chile as a Raleigh International volunteer, as well as working on a dairy farm in the United Kingdom. Harry spent time in Africa, working with orphaned children in Lesotho.
When he graduated from high school in 1955, Morgan Freeman had a scholarship offer to attend Jackson State University to study drama. But he turned it down, instead enlisting in the United States Air Force. He wanted to be a pilot, but started out as a radar technician. After waiting more than a year, he got his chance to fly – but it wasn’t what he expected. Freeman says he had a “distinct feeling [he] was sitting in the nose of a bomb.” “I had this very clear epiphany. You are not in love with this; you are in love with the idea of this.” Freeman left the Air Force after four years. His story proves that even if your service does not last a lifetime, it teaches you valuable lessons about yourself and what you want for your future.
It’s clear that an extended period of service early in life can help young people develop the worldview and personal responsibility that leads to a more fulfilling and meaningful life. In today’s America, that’s exactly what we need.