If I could combine the creative and stylistic energies of this generation with the duty-bound, tough-mindedness of previous generations, a person would be produced that would be less flaky, but also less rigid than your average American.
The current crop of younger Americans can be as flaky and unstable as a snowflake in a winter storm. They tire easy, are often frustrated if things are not immediate and easy, and sometimes act like children in a sandbox having a difficult time sharing their toys. This generation has become a generation of "navel gazers" enamored with ease, grotesquely self-absorbed, and perpetually preoccupied with their own "stuff," often to the detriment of their own souls and of the souls of those around them.
Technologically savvy, they have more information at their fingertips than all previous generations combined, yet are as ignorant of real life stuff such as dedicated love, the reality of death, meaningful but hard relationships, commitment, loyalty, and duty. Their "tech toys" are amazing (I have some of them myself), but they are often used for gaming, texting, and other self-absorbed activities rather than long-term and meaningful enterprises. We have become hard-wired for games, fun, leisure, and ease.
This generation is smart but ignorant. It's as if they have facts but no wisdom to piece together those facts into a meaningful, coherent worldview. Maybe this is why many parents are frustrated and confused when – after having paid a ridiculous amount of money to put their child through college – they see their educated son or daughter graduate only to get a job at the local coffee shop while trying to "figure life out." When their children say and do things like this, it's as if they're speaking a foreign language to their parents: "What do you mean, figure it out? I thought that's what you were doing the last four or five years?" Presumptuousness meet self-centeredness!
As an equal opportunity offender, let me pick on the older generations (50+), as well. Much of what has infected the current generation has now been absorbed by older generations. Cranky, selfish, equally-self-absorbed as their younger counterparts, and ill-tempered at times many members of the "Greatest Generation" have assumed an attitude of privilege toward people, places, and things. The sacrifice that carried them through hard times in the past has given way to a pampered lifestyle of travel, leisure, and self-interested retirement. They will rail away at the younger generation for their selfishness and never realize that they need to look in the mirror.
To both I say, "the self-absorbed, autonomous 'I' has reached its zenith."
But time and events have a way of stripping us of our fake and flimsy props. Reality has a way of challenging our untested philosophies that were developed in the local coffee shop or dorm room with other equally self-absorbed, yet untested compatriots. And then, along comes an economic downturn, a war out of control, a job market on the decline, a government on a spending binge, a world in chaos, a moral order upside down (even for the classic liberal) and everything is now in question. The younger generation doesn't know what to make of the world because they have a minimalistic, untested worldview and the older generation is faced with the hard reality that work and real life, not leisure, may still be on the agenda for the foreseeable future.
What are we to do? Which way do you go when you're at the crossroads of self-centeredness and reality? Maybe the first statement of this article needs repeating, "If I could combine the creative and stylistic energy of this generation with the duty-bound, tough-mindedness of previous generations, a person would be produced that would be less flaky, but also less rigid than your average American."
How is this combination possible? Let us call forth those time-honored character traits of duty, commitment, sacrifice, self-determination, and service. But let us also funnel them through a creative and fluid soul that expresses those traits in new and productive ways.
Let us maintain the essence of duty and commitment (we have to get up and go to work, school, or church even when we don't feel like it), without committing the insanity of repeating a thing expecting different results (that is, change is not always bad). Let us not draw our meaning from things or technology, but from the soul set on God that is able to navigate a world of things and technology with meaning and purpose. Let us grasp the notion of commitment, even when it's hard, but let us make sure that what we commit ourselves to in the first place is not temporal but more eternal, soulful, and meaningful.
Let us not be driven by the roller-coaster of pure emotion, but let us temper our feelings with reason, thoughtfulness and tough-mindedness. Yet, let us not morph into unfeeling souls that have no compassion or sensitivity to our neighbor.
Let us not be so self-absorbed and thus, less offended, when things do not go our way. Let us embrace a worldview that is less "me-centered" and more absorbed with God, others, and then self. Let us brace ourselves for difficulty and hardships so that these twins are not viewed as enemies but as refining friends. Yet, let us not lose the tenderness of the soul that comes from a mind and a heart set on eternal things. Being tough doesn't mean we're not fragile.
A very wise man once said that it is possible to gain the whole world, but lose one's soul. Maybe we have lost our souls in the sea of frivolity! The economic and moral malaise we're in right now has a way of melting away the faulty and the frivolous. It is then that the soul is exposed for what it is – good or bad, deep or shallow, self-absorbed or other-centered. Yet, it is then and only then that we can go to work on the soul, building a rich, committed, duty-minded, creative, eternally-directed soul that combines tested-love and creative duty, the best of all generations.