So, you’re Young and Self-Absorbed?
Millennials did you read the TIME article “Me, Me, Me Generation” by Joel Stein? Take a look at the opening paragraph:
Correction Appended: May 9, 2013
I am about to do what old people have done throughout history: call those younger than me lazy, entitled, selfish and shallow. But I have studies! I have statistics! I have quotes from respected academics! Unlike my parents, my grandparents and my great-grandparents, I have proof. (TIME)
I would just skip the TIME article and go straight to The Atlantic Wire’s Every Every Every Generation Has Been the Me Me Me Generation which builds a strong case that, well every generation has been criticized by their elders when coming of age. It also lampoons the TIME articles’ main point that Narcissistic personality disorder is three times higher(!) in people in their 20s than people over 65 and older. The Atlantic argues a counterpoint (evidenced in a NIH.gov paper) that “Basically, it’s not that people born after 1980 are narcissists, it’s that young people are narcissists, and they get over themselves as they get older.”
Also, excuse my wiki-google reference, but the recognition of Narcissistic Personality disorder is only 45 years old (the age of a GenXer). To put that date into perspective, the very oldest of Baby Boomers (born in 1946) were only 22 in 1968. Sort of an unfair generational comparison of a psychological condition that is probably used in diagnosis more often now than 45 years ago.
The Atlantic articles goes on to build a pretty compelling case that all generations are looked upon with a a whole slew of negative traits by their elders. Perhaps every generation looks down the ladder and thinks “what is the world coming to?” It happened with Boomers. It happened with GenXers. It even happened in 1907 with whatever generation was accused of “worship(ping) of the brazen calf of the Self.” (Anna A. Rogers).
Beware Narcissistic Slacktivism
Another article I read today in response to the TIME article argues that maybe we are narcissists, but we put our narcissism to good use.
“No other generation has ever celebrated or supported so many diverse social movements. At least, no other generation has accomplished as much to the same extent.” — ‘TIME Magazine Millennials: Why The Story Isn’t Totally Right About Narcissism” PolicyMic.com
Really? So far millennials have strong sentiments, yes. Accomplishments? It depends on what you mean by that. Especially since the statement followed by a mediocre resume. Of course there is overwhelming support of LGBT rights, and environmental responsibility, and although millennials are key to the momentum of these social causes, they are hardly the catalyst. Really, we are riding the coattails of generations ahead of us. It feels sort of wrong to put that on our resume. It’s fitting to the typical millennial criticism of earning a trophy for participation, not accomplishment. This will only get in the way of any progress on the part of millennials.
A couple causes that are millennial babies are Kony 2012, and Occupy Wall Street. Sentimentally, I support both. Operationally I’m not so sure, I think the jury is still out. Promotion & awareness is half the battle. HALF. It’s extremely effective and important, but so is money, time, legislation, and applying thoughtful action to a complex situation. Participating in a publicity campaign is not what progress is made of.
Also, previous American generations are hardly without accomplishments: How about universal eduction? Child labor laws? The end of Jim Crow laws in the South? The end of American slavery? Pretty big accomplishments compared to millennials being “so into” a cause.
Unfortunately millennials misunderstand the fabric of progress. We grew up watching the victories of past generations that look easy or inevitable in retrospect. We know the end of the story, while the people in the story did not. There is a lot nuance and complexities that lead to progressive victories. Ambiguity and risk are always part of the journey.
Abraham Lincoln understood the principle that “…the probability that we may fail in the struggle ought not to deter us from the support of a cause we believe to be just.” Martin Luther King Jr. also went out on a limb not knowing what great esteem he would be held in the eyes of posterity: “Faith is taking the first step even when you don’t see the whole staircase.” Not knowing if progress would be made, both had a resume of going up against the odds, not looking for “A for effort” sort of accomplishments, but making a change that would challenge them to face extreme opposition, that made them look, well horrible. There is no room for ego at all in righting a wrong.
Both of their lives were ended by assassination. Hardly the mark of a well-liked person.
“And we’re not afraid to use that power. That’s the beauty of narcissism.” PolicyMic.com
I disagree. The weakness of narcissism is that it’s useless in recognizing if a goal has been reached. Narcissism is useless in evaluating if power has been used effectively. Millennials have a whole list of rights to wrong, and the desire to do just that. If my generation really is going to make a difference like they so desperately desire, our convictions and actions have to mature along with us. That’s how progress is made.
So here are some questions to asses where you’re at: Did you give time to your cause? Did you give you’re money? Are you passionate about this particular cause? Do you understand the key factors in progressing your cause?
And, just for fun:
featured image source: http://www.gonjoy.com/2011/09/1960s-fashion.html