Re-connecting the “Me-Me-Me Generation”

by | Nov 12, 2015

Were you, too, a little disconcerted to see Christmas swag going up well before Halloween this year?

Yet that makes it even a little cooler to see more major retailers stepping up to say, “No, we’re not opening early for Black Friday. We’re staying closed all Thanksgiving so our employees can celebrate the day with their loved ones.”

Perhaps more than any other holiday, Thanksgiving is truly a holiday of community. Of course there’s the traditional gathering of family and friends for the feast. But we also reach out to others. Maybe we invite in “Thanksgiving orphans” we know. Or we donate food or our time to feed others in need. Or we visit those in hospitals and other settings who are not able to join their loved ones at home.

It’s a time of reaching out and coming together.

Disconnect & the “Me-Me-Me Generation”

alienationWhile attempts to reign in the madness of Black Friday come partly from growing concern over workers’ rights, you can’t help but wonder if it’s also somewhat part of our collective response to the dwindling sense of community many of us feel in our daily lives. Trends toward social disconnect and self-concern that first came to broad attention in the mid-20th century have only accelerated with the tech revolution.

And now we have what Time Magazine has called the “Me-Me-Me Generation,” a/k/a millennials, or young adults born between 1980 and 2000. While columnist Joel Stein finds much to admire in them – their optimism, resilience, and pragmatism, for instance – they also show a strong tendency toward two traits antithetical to community: narcissism and entitlement.

Blogging on Psychology Today, Dr. George Drinka describes the cultural shift:

Societal trends have drifted away from an emphasis on community and the common good and moved toward the need to take care of self, perfect oneself, even to the point of self-aggrandizement.

Employing a Google research engine that counts word usages in published writing form 1500 to the present, three academics, Jean Twenge, W. Keith Campell and Brittany Gentile, recently mapped out how words and terms appearing in print have drifted away from the usage of community based ones toward more individualistically based ideas. That is, terms and words like “self” and “unique” and “I come first” or “I can do it myself” have become more frequently printed. Words like “collective,” “share,” “band together,” and “common good” are receding in usage. Concurrently, words such as virtue and conscience appear less frequently in printed media while others about self-betterment and self-strengthening arise more frequently.

In a real sense, the zeitgeist in the early 21st century whispers to our kids to take care of themselves and ignore the community at large. We are living in changing times, an era of a poorly studied morality shift.

A Lack of Models

Plenty of reasons have been floated to explain that shift. Stein includes parental (“Me Generation”) influence and the well-intended but misguided emphasis on fuzzy notions of “self-esteem.” Other forces may be seen as impeding natural age development – things like helicopter parenting styles and increasing amounts of time spent exclusively with peers rather than adults who could model many types of “grown-up” behavior.

But there’s also the undeniable fact that society as a whole is a model for children. If we don’t have a strong and vibrant sense of community in our own lives, how can children ever learn well what it means to connect with others? If our most significant relationships are virtual, mediated through this technology or that, how can we expect children to pursue and value real, face-to-face relationships?

Identifying & Creating Community

children talkingAs we’ve noted previously, real, face-to-face communication is necessary for developing essential life skills such as empathy, conflict resolution, problem solving, and more. And when problems arise – when life hurts us – we need real world communities for support, compassion, and healing.

Helping children identify their communities and teaching them how to build new connections is crucial to the social-emotional learning component of Yoga Calm. Through leading and following activities, games like Back Drawing, and activities like Community Circle, children get to practice skills like trust, empathy and simple listening (not just with ears but also eyes). And, of course, the classroom – or clinic or studio – itself becomes a locus for community.

Another way to model the possibilities of community – and the loving support they can provide – is through storytelling, whether through traditional tales of working together or modern books such as Lynea’s latest, Little Banty Chicken and the Big Dream. The more possible ways of being we can present to them, the more real community-building can seem and the more effectively they may be able to form real-life friendships and other relationships, positive ones.

Images by Ilario Reale & Alexander Lyubavin, via Flickr

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