As parents, Baby Boomers brought their hippie idealism to their children, teaching them to follow their dreams and live their lives with love, peace and happiness. Their closer, more involved relationships with their children also sometimes shielded them from the randomness and unfairness of the world – the so-called helicopter parents. While those ideals certainly have their place, the effects of this type of nurturing has our society reevaluating what it means to work, what it means to be successful and what it means to live life in a modern era.
We can’t all follow our dreams. It’s not realistic. Not all of us can be video game designers or movie stars. We also can’t play the blame game and project our problems onto others, victimizing ourselves to avoid bad feelings of personal responsibility, shame or jealousy.
This balance between positivity and realism is the hallmark of the rift between the generations. As millennials rise, they are reevaluating our core societal beliefs and reshaping them in their own image. The hipster mentality is all about rejecting sunshine and rainbows for the truth. Boomers who awkwardly avoided race issues with platitudes and low-investment idealism have given birth to millennials who see the issue more plainly and want to acknowledge and address it.
The millennial generation has been labeled the most self-aware but it is also the most giving and caring. More young people volunteer now than ever before. They are more engaged in news and issues. But as they mature, is that realism making it into their views of their own lives?
That’s the issue at hand in a recent New York Times piece on resiliency. The article explores the rising calls for resiliency as college students ask for trigger warnings on difficult subjects or young adults continue to need a helping hand from their parents. It taps into the core fears about the effects of the hippie mentality – that too much coddling has resulted in lazy, self-absorbed and ultimately stagnant and ineffectual behaviors in our citizens.
Is there some truth to these claims? Absolutely, otherwise they wouldn’t have resonated with so many people. We need to be able to discuss tough topics freely. Younger generations need to learn independence and self-reliance. But as with anything, there is a balance. Our maturing young people need to learn to find a middle ground between toughness, resilience and grit and also finding happiness and contentment.
Boomers reacted with their feel-good vibes because their parents did not address their emotional needs. Earlier generations raised in the Depression era were taught to shut up or put up and keep their noses to the grindstone. While this parenting style leads to hardworking progeny, it can also spur emotional issues that go unaddressed, affecting people long into adulthood. It’s natural that Boomers would react and adapt to that as parents, attempting to shield their children from the pain they experienced.
Today we are struggling to find the right balance without over-correcting. As the Times article points out, young people are more stressed and anxious than ever, trying to meet more and more obligations and meet loftier societal standards. Social media and Google have given them the tools to constantly be evaluating and comparing themselves against others. Now we don’t just compete over jobs or sports teams, we also compete over and obsess about prom dresses and baby names. Previous generations were pressured to behave in certain ways, but never were they as observed or as judged. And they never felt so helpless to rise to the standards against which they were measured.
So what does it really mean to be resilient? I think it means to be realistic about what we can achieve and what life is meant to be like. Life is unfair. Life is tough. Life is random. Life is chaotic. All of these are true and we need to acknowledge and embrace them. But how we react to them is just as important.
We need to acknowledge that some of life’s unfairnesses should not be borne by society. We should, for example, make it our constant goal to remove racism from society rather than sitting back and watching it continue to fester. Systemic injustice given the label of “unfairness” is inadequate, dismissive and a tool in the hands of those who would perpetuate injustice.
But we also need to embrace the idea that some will always have more than others and that is not only fair but a good thing. We need some people to earn more than others so our citizens have an incentive to work hard and contribute. We need to get comfortable with the fact that some people will work their asses off and still fail because that’s life. We need the perspective to be able to have an honest conversation about offensive language, whilst also acknowledging that our society has much bigger fish to fry than the use of harsh words. We need to stop comparing ourselves to others, especially superficially, and refocus on our most important societal needs.
Our success at defining this fine – resilient – line between coddling and emotional neglect will be what ultimately determines our success. Our greatest hopes for the future lie in the ability to find the right balance. And there is certainly hope. Debates like these are what shape us into the evolving, intellectual society we are constantly striving to achieve. Awareness and self-reflection are the hallmarks of a resilient, stable and sustainable society. The question is: will our awareness translate into action?