A brief preemptive disclaimer. My Google Reader is filled to the brim with writing from amazing, self-less, motivated, hardworking, genuine and beautiful bloggers. These bloggers challenge the status quo and break every known stereotype out there about Gen Y. They are remarkable individuals (and it pains me that I have met so few of them in real life), but they are also role models. I’m talking about Doniree, Michelle, Derek, Jenny, Shane Mac, Jennifer, and Ashley, to name only a handful of bloggers we have all grown to love. There are exceptions to every rule. To every stereotype. The purpose of this post is to address how we can, as Gen Y bloggers, be role models for the upcoming generations by being honest and expecting more from each other. The point is, don’t get your panties in a wad about some of the things I say about Gen Y until after you read the whole post. Then you can get anything you want into a wad. Thanks in advance.
The power of truth
Yesterday, I blogged about the Life Raft Debate. This is a second post inspired by the “Tough Guys” segment on NPR’s This American Life in which the Life Raft Debate is featured. Every year (since 1998), students and faculty at the University of Montevallo (my Alma mater) come together to prove the value of a Liberal Arts education in America with a little event they call the Life Raft Debate*.
For a few years, the audience voted for the debate winner based solely on how well that faculty member “pandered” to the audience, using theatrics and humor. In 2007*, one faculty member had enough. He was tired of the faculty not treating the audience, the students, with enough respect to treat them like educated adults, to challenge them or to hold a real debate. To make the Life Raft Debate an exercise in true Civics. That year, there was no winner. The audience did not vote because none of the debaters actually debated anything. The audience said No. All the faculty drowned.
Dr. Jon Smith says we must stop treating each other like this. We must stop acting as if the audience are complete morons who can only make a decision based on whether they laugh or are entertained. Dr. Smith thinks we can find a way to grow a spine and raise our standards with the help of role models. He cites Simon Cowell (yes, from American Idol) as a breath of fresh air because Cowell is willing to say what no one else is willing to say: the truth. Everyone who loves to sing or wants to sing will be able to make a career doing it, but some people are not told they lack a certain skill as children. We cannot actually live all of our wildest dreams. We have limitations, believe it or not. We are not perfect. Sadly, we live in a society where we are afraid to tell people No. We are so concerned with people’s self-esteem that we are not honest with people about their limitations. We are not always honest with ourselves about where we need to draw the line between attainable dream and fantasy.
Gen Y can handle the truth
Many Gen Y-ers grew up being told they were special. My generation’s parents were told No by their parents and they don’t want to tell their own kids No. The animated film, The Incredibles, touches on this topic beautifully. In Fight Club, Chuck Palahniuk even addresses how many men are raised by single mothers can never say No because they feel incredible guilt. Gen Y-ers (and the upcoming generations like my little brother and step siblings) were told they could do anything. Now our kids are told yes yes yes. That they can do no wrong. That they deserve a trophy for being last in the race. That they are entitled to anything they want. That they deserve a high paying job right out of college without working hard. That it is perfectly acceptable to shop for things they cannot afford or to buy a house by the time they are 25 because they have a credit card.
But in actuality, those Gen Y-ers who have been told they are so special all the time are NOT** narcissistic, fragile people who will buckle at the first sound of criticism. They are ROBUST. They WANT to be challenged. They NEED to be challenged. We need the truth. We want the truth. And the generations to come need it, too.
I know, some people can’t handle the truth, right? Mommy and Daddy paid for everything, told them they were so smart, so pretty, so perfect, that they could do no wrong. Well, they are in for a rough road, if they think they are entitled to something without putting something real out there first. If you think your first try at something, a work report or presentation or paper or publication or journal article or book or song or painting is going to be perfect, you are wrong. We all need constructive criticism. We all need help. We all need feedback. It is much better to have someone tell me the truth early so I do not waste my time. Or so I know what I am doing wrong so I can improve. My time could be spent doing something more rewarding. I am on my seventh draft of my thesis proposal. It doesn’t mean I am a horrible writer, but it means I can always be a better writer. I used to want to sing and dance. I loved singing and loved dancing. But somewhere along the way I was told I was not good enough. And I had horrific stage freight. It hurt. A lot. But I thank the person who was coming from a good place when he was honest with me early. It doesn’t stop me from belting it out in the car or from car dancing or even dancing in my chair while I study. It doesn’t stop me from loving musical theater, for example. But I know I had to put my time, effort, money, passion into other things.
We can be role models
So tell Gen Y and Z the truth. Expect the truth. Be a role model. Debate. Educate yourself. Expect others to educate themselves. We all deserve respect and love and truth. The truth is not always easy and it can be painful, but it is an essential part of growing up. The truth will set us free, after all. It will allow us to have a more fulfilling, happy life. Things will not always fall into place exactly how we picture them. That is OK. It gives us the opportunity to learn and grow and find our true paths. Being a role model is more than living by example and empowering others to DO. It is also about being honest.
A very wise man once made a call for us all to be the change we wish to see in the world. It can start with us, friends. We can demand more from each other. More from ourselves. With a simple No. With a simple Truth. We can be honest with our younger siblings who are told No less often than we ever were. We must be honest with our own kids. When the truth comes from a good place, it is beautiful.
*You can listen to the podcast from the last Life Raft Debate in which Jon Smith called upon the audience to make a statement with a simple No vote. The “Tough Guys” segment on NPR’s This American Life in which the Life Raft Debate is mentioned begins at 41:00.