TIME Magazine recently published an article by Joel Stein entitled “The New Greatest Generation: Why Millennials Will Save Us All.” The front cover of this month’s issue alludes to this article, and the fact that “the Millennials” (those born from 1980-2000) are often called the “Me Me Me” generation, and are referred to as “lazy, entitled narcissists who still live with their parents” yet will somehow save society.
In the article, Stein flat-out calls this generation lazy, selfish, entitled, shallow, narcissistic, less educated and self-obsessed, highlighting how this attitude has been around since the time of the Reformation when Luther told Christians that they didn’t need the Church to talk to God, and in the 18th century at end of the Romantic period, when artists stopped using their work to celebrate God and instead used it to express themselves.
What has resulted is the catastrophic images of modern-day contemporary “art,” as some would call it, and young people in their 20s-30s plastering photos of themselves all over Facebook, Twitter, and various other social media outlets, and spending more time taking pictures of themselves and their pets, and checking hourly to see how many “likes” or re-tweets they’ve received than actually doing something with their lives besides move in with mom and dad and work at a part-time retail job with no benefits.
Towards the end of the article, Stein praises this generation as being more hopeful, optimistic, accepting, smart and strategic, yet in the midst of this laid-back attitude, they are more un-convicted, passionless and often have great horizons but no desire to reach them. They are informed, but inactive, and there is a higher rate of agnosticism, or if they do believe in God, they are simply “religiously un-affiliated.” They, the “Millennials,” simply don’t identify with big institutions, and so distance themselves from anything that might make a mark on them, and seek to make their own mark on the world. Although Stein praises this attitude, I’m not so sure that it doesn’t feed directly into the narcissistic attitude that he speaks of early on in the article, of which this generation exhibits higher levels than any other in our history.
Why is this? So far everything I’ve mentioned is a symptom of narcissism, yes, but narcissism itself is just a symptom; as described by a blogger on psychcentral.com, narcissism is, simply put, a dysfunction where the person is totally absorbed in themselves, their image and personal achievements, and who in different levels cuts others off and out of their lives, becoming emotionally isolated, and which is usually triggered by some sort of trauma or traumatic event in their lives. In this way they neither depend on anyone else, nor seek to – their only concern is for themselves, yet because they are so isolated and rarely show their true faces, they are constantly seeking approval. In this way, especially the “Millennials” that Stein was referring to, create an image of themselves that they want to portray to the world and never have to show anything authentic – they can keep their walls up, and their image perfect with mountains of “selfies” plastered all over social media outlets. But obviously this is not fulfilling, as most often these same people constantly look for approval by checking their phones or email every hour, hoping someone sent a them a message or commented on a status update.
The question is then posed, if this is a general attitude amongst the youth of today, then what is the cause? What is the trauma that has led to this culture-wide, and even nation-wide, epidemic of narcissism?
There are several factors that contribute to this general attitude in the culture today, many more than I can explain in one small blog post, but I believe one of the strongest contributing factors to be the crisis of the family today, which stems largely as a result of the sexual revolution of the 1960s.
With divorce and broken marriages as rampant as they are today, it is not surprising that a certain instability is present among the youth who grow up in the middle of these unfortunate circumstances. Once the family unit becomes unstable, which happens very quickly with a divorce, adultery, re-marriage, etc., especially when the children are young, they grow up with a certain level of distrust of the others in their family, including and often most especially, their parents. They grow up with this element of distrust, often very subtle, and learn a certain self-sufficiency from an early age, and most are very independent from early adolescence on. Yet because of the brokenness present within the family structure, there is a natural tendency to withdraw from what seems unstable or unsafe in some way.
If a child grows up learning to withdraw and distrust, even at a minute level, they grow up with a certain insecurity and will struggle to truly expose themselves, and will therefore always seek the approval and the affirmation of who they are, that they never really received because they never really experienced an environment that was safe enough to show themselves. So, the affirmation they did receive, although positive and authentic, never touched their heart, which has been hidden behind a wall.
This is also why, I believe, these people who grow up so independent, are often mistrustful of institutions, because the most important institution in their lives growing up, their families, were mistrustful, and thus they will not attach to anything. They will create their own way of doing things, carving newer paths and breaking away from the way things have been done for years – including when it comes to their faith.
Since children in broken families often distance themselves from the authorities in their lives, they themselves become the main reference-point for what is right and wrong. With many parents telling their kids one thing, yet doing another, they see contradictions and are left to decide on their own what is best, even in terms of morality.
It is also my opinion that this is why we see so many, even within the Church, distancing themselves from her teachings, because it “feels right” for people to marry whoever they want, regardless of gender, and it doesn’t “feel right” to “force” a woman to give birth if she “isn’t ready,” or if the circumstances are “inconvenient,” regardless of whether or not what is growing inside of her is a human person.
We are enclosed on ourselves; we’ve put up walls separating us from morality, and even from the possibility of truth. We are often so self-absorbed that in our minds, it doesn’t really matter if what is inside of me may or may not be a human person – it’s my body, so I can do what I want.
Although the “Millennial” generation is in general more laid-back, more accepting of other people and cultures, and more open to creativity, it is not possible to create morality, it is not possible to create truth, and if we take a moment to look outside of our little worlds of “me,” we’ll see that it is possible to trust, and that there are authorities and structures which are trustworthy, and that’s it’s ok to allow ourselves to be guided by something other than our feelings or subjective opinions.
But how do we make this reality more present? How do we fight to change such a deeply rooted narcissistic mentality embedded in our culture? If you look at a previous blog post about this same topic, Pope Francis gives us some good suggestions and starting points; go out.
We ourselves have to “go out,” we have to be the ones to proclaim the Truth.
As the Pope says, even as a church we are enclosed, are narcissistic, being more concerned with our own image, making ourselves the reference point of morality instead of God. If my feelings are the only guide I use to form my conscience, then of course it will be ok to marry whoever I want, regardless of gender, of course it will be ok to take the life of something(one) growing inside of me, of course it will be ok to…and the list goes on.
We who have the truth need to live it, and need to proclaim it; we need to stop being afraid, and we need to start fighting hard to preserve the natural and God-given structure of the family, and to proclaim the sanctity of life. We need to break out of our shells and open to the reality of truth, even if it isn’t what we want to hear, and eventually, if we all start to do this, the world will start to listen.
*Elise Harris is the Assistant Multimedia Specialist for CNA. She holds a bachelor’s degree in Philosophy from the University of Northern Colorado.