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I suppose to be young is to be clueless. For example, it turns out that what others considered the most interesting part of my last post was the part I cut out. To leave you, dear reader, to go in peace with your precious time, I’ll give the gist of what I did post.
I’m somewhat ambivalent about the Jordan Peterson sensation. This isn’t because I have any doubts that he’s a good man or a positive influence on the young men who follow him. It’s only because I think inspirational YouTubers, even the best of them, are no substitute for the role model properly understood. The young need to have actual relationships with the adults they elevate and admire. Even if the grown-up of the arrangement would say they’re admired for fictitious virtues – Cary Grant said he wished he was Cary Grant – it’s very real to the child. But it’s only even sort of real if somebody is actually there. (Maybe it’s best if you read the post.)
In the comments, @vancerichards made the point that young people in need would likely honor their elders if they asked someone they look up to (whether a superior in the office, a neighbor, an aunt or uncle, and so on) to mentor them. I think he’s absolutely correct. The trouble is that young people are wary to ask and it’s worthwhile to think about why that is.
I’m more familiar with the tendencies – it may be more accurate to call them the neuroses – of young men, but I’d like to start with a curious thing I’ve noticed that strikes me as a cause for concern to women, even if it’s only slightly “a woman’s concern.” Here and there I’m getting news about marital engagements. It’s a good thing. A great thing. The best thing! What’s interesting is when I inquire, directly or more tactfully, about how long the betrothed were un-trothed. I mostly get the same answer. Eight years.
Considering that these girls are marrying in their thirties, that presumably they’re interested, and likely always were, in having children, I can’t help but wonder why they put up with indecisive, feckless long-term boyfriends who are wasting precious time. For all the blathering about strength and independence (plus the vagina costumes!) one might’ve thought that the assertiveness which has been foisted upon young women would see that they’d demand a fairer shake. And these are the girls! These are the ones who get a lot of (albeit, grossly condescending) encouragement. I couldn’t say if it makes them better or worse off.
Here’s what I’m getting at: I don’t think young Americans like themselves very much. It doesn’t occur to them to expect – let alone ask for – better treatment.
Social media, self-esteem crazes, participation trophies, and the like could very well give the impression that young people are prone to unearned self-adulation. Granted, much of what we see is an ugly sight to behold, and self-obsession is demonstrably an issue – why else would the sexless teens and twenty-somethings of today put so much thought into the complicated nature of their nonexistent sexualities? But the self-obsession isn’t venerating. The selfies and other novelties of attention-seeking behavior are acts of desperation. It’s a strange cycle. Self-denigration for the sake of self-affirmation, which contributes to self-hatred. The machine hums along, the corpses pile up.
As abrasive as they are, it’s a fragile batch. They’ve been gypped, and they don’t have to be paranoid (which they are) to wonder who they can trust… assuming there’s anyone they can. Many weren’t ever told that they’re children of G-d. A lot of them weren’t told to be proud of their toiling ancestors. More than a few believe their existence is the result of shameful circumstances. It can’t be much of a wonder why these people have a low estimation of themselves. And if that’s the case, maybe it’s reasonable that they don’t think they’re worthy of a helping hand.
So what does this have to do with American adults?
In one sense not much. When I say “adult” I’m not really talking about age, and those of you who are even slightly interested in this post probably don’t share much in the blame. But in another sense, it means a great deal. After all, it’s you who have the right stuff. You’re concerned the way responsible people are concerned. You have children you’d like to see married, you’d like to meet your grandchildren, or maybe you have grandchildren that you think deserve a bit of what was bestowed to you. For all their peculiarities, kids these days have a problem that is common with the kids of all the days that came before. Kids are, and will always be, [redacted] stupid. At least until they’re guided to adulthood.
What makes this bunch of young people unique is that they don’t like themselves. It doesn’t occur to them that they deserve better – I mean that they don’t think they deserve a real shot at the good life and the help they desperately need to attain it. To complicate matters, a lot of these young people are truly damaged goods. Even though I’m in the thick of it, I have a hard time calling these things. But this makes it all the more essential that we work on the youngsters we can work with. Those ones aren’t too hard to spot to the perceptive viewer. It’s worth keeping an eye out for the corporals among the privates. And if we get them going, they can sift through their questionable peers.
In an ideal world, busy adults could be busy with their business. But the times aren’t ideal. The kids are not alright. Thankfully they’re not done for. They just don’t have a high enough opinion of themselves to think they’re worth anybody’s time – they don’t even think they’re worth their own. But if you have some to spare, consider adopting one of the few you think has some potential. Give it a try even if they don’t ask (most won’t have the courage). But if we’re lucky, they, and your biological grandchildren, will thank you for the help they didn’t know how to ask for.
*** Special thanks to @flicker for encouraging this follow-up post. I hope I moved the needle towards what you were asking about. I owe you at least one more post about the other thing!Published in