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Obama inaugural address: a call to act on unfulfilled ideals

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Lincoln sought to unify a nation torn apart over slavery by appealing to the “better angels of our nature.” He achieved it.

Obama’s vision lies in the nation acting “now” on its founding creed of rights for all. His compassion is as evident as his impatience for results. Or as American essayist Susan Sontag wrote: “Compassion is an unstable emotion. It needs to be translated into action, or it withers.”

To whom will Obama’s message most appeal? Perhaps most of all it is to that generation which is the most service- minded since World War II – the so-called Millennials, born between 1981 and 2002.

By next year, this group of 92 million will represent half of the workforce. They were raised on doing public service. They buy fair-trade goods, ride bikes to work, join Teach for America, or help out after a big storm. More than a quarter of college students regularly volunteered in 2010. This “civic generation” is happiest in their jobs when they participate in workplace volunteer activities, one study finds.

The emergence of Millennials in society may help explain why volunteering reached a five-year high in 2011. More than one in four adults volunteered through a formal organization while 2 out of 3 did favors for neighbors.

Yet they also see personal acts of caring as not dependent on institutions, such as government or organized religion. (Only 19 percent of businesses provide paid time off for volunteering.)

The Millennials are also marked by another big qualifier. They are more religiously unaffiliated than previous generations of young people. A third of them are “nones,” or none of the above on questions of religious association.

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