Wednesday, September 07, 2005

A New Hope

A New Hope

Many people that I talk with despair. They think that the world is going to hell. They think that things are getting worse all the time. The think that America's best days are behind it.

What a load of crap.

Yes, the world is imperfect, and we as a people even more so. Katrina has made everyone aware that our government, from the President on down to the local level, has made plenty of bad decisions. But that's no reason to moan and assume the fetal position.

To quote Churchill, "We will never surrender."

And you know what, there are plenty of things to be hopeful about, especially today's youth.

Given our media obsession with teen sex, recreational drug use, and Columbine, we don't always hear the good news: the kids are all right. In fact, they're better than their parents.

"They are also the most diverse generation ever: 35 percent are non-white, and the most tolerant, believing everyone should be part of the community.Historian Neil Howe, along with co-author William Strauss, has made a career studying different generations. Howe says all the research on echo boomers always reflects the same thing: They are much different than their self-absorbed, egocentric baby boomer parents.

"Nothing could be more anti-boom than being a good team player, right? Fitting in. Worrying less about leadership than follower-ship," says Howe. "If you go into a public school today, teamwork is stressed everywhere. Team teaching, team grading, collaborative sports, community service, service learning, student juries. I mean, the list goes on and on."

Howe thinks they are more like their grandparents, the great World War II generation -- more interested in building things up than tearing them down.

"When you ask kids, 'What do you most hope to achieve there?' Where they used to say, 'I wanna be No. 1. I wanna be the best,' increasingly they're saying, 'I wanna be an effective member of the team. I wanna do everything that's required of me,'" says Howe.

And you can already see some results. Violent crime among teenagers is down 60 to 70 percent. The use of tobacco and alcohol are at all-time lows. So is teen pregnancy. Five out of 10 echo boomers say they trust the government, and virtually all of them trust mom and dad."

Forget Brat Camp; we could all learn a thing or two from today's youth.

Of course, the kids aren't perfect. They're naive. They're impatient. They don't know what they want to do with their lives. And you know what? I think that we should be glad that even after everything they've been through, kids are still kids.


Ben Casnocha said...

True. But I'm not as upbeat. :-)

Some of the things you mentioned are contrary to the entrepreneurial ethos. Fitting in, deference to parents, and so forth. How and Strauss have some good points, but I also don't know if I buy the assertion that kids are saying "I want to be #1" less than they are saying "I want to be part of a team." In any case, is it really better for them to be saying the latter and not the former?

The culture of achievement is harmful, especially since it is predicated on following the rules and gaming the system, not changing the rules.

Chris said...

In the end, while I would like to see a world where people aren't blindly drawn to achievement, the simple fact of the matter is that the culture of achievement is better than a culture of apathy.

Yes, there are certain individuals who are fettered by the culture of achievement. But there are a lot more who are better off because of it.

When I was 15 years old, I didn't know enough about who I was and what I wanted to make good decisions. The culture of achievement gave me something to guide my actions until I could figure things out.

It might be that achievement becomes a prop for some people, and that some would benefit from the elimination of this culture, but on the whole, I think it is more beneficial than a lack of ambition (versus the ideal, which is the desire and will to pursue the unique goals which matter to the individual.