Ease Up on the Oft-Maligned Millennial
A week or two ago I mentioned that I am enjoying a collection of essays by Heather Havrilesky titled, What If This Were Enough?
As the title may suggest Havrilesky is waging war, with wit and wisdom, against what she terms “the poisons of our culture.” These lies which “we ingest and metabolize them until they feel like a part of us, yet we still can’t figure out why we’re sick.”
One of those poisons is the lie that “you never/ I never have enough,” or more perniciously, “You are (I am) never enough.”
In her essay, “The Popularity Contest,” Havrilesky talks about the effects of social media and “clicks.” At one point she launches into an excursus on millennials. (She is an X-er). Here’s Havrilesky reflecting on her experience as the “Ask Polly” advice columnist at The Cut/ New York Magazine.
“I started to believe that many of our basic assumptions about millennials — that they are spoiled and entitled, that they’re overconfident in their abilities, that they’re digital natives utterly un-conflicted about privacy and social media and living much of their lives on-line are wrong.”
Those are the pretty regularly repeated stereotypes of a generation, aren’t they? But the truth may be different.
“What I discovered in my email in-box each morning are dispatches from young people who feel guilty and inadequate at every turn and who compare themselves relentlessly to others. They are turned inside out, day by day, by social media.
“From my vantage point, it looks tougher to be a young person today than it has been for decades.” (italics added)
“Many of these anxieties take the same shape: An external mob is watching and judging and withholding approval. It is impossible to matter, to be interesting enough . . . No matter how hard you try, someone else out there is taking the same raw ingredients and making a better life out of them. The curated version of you that lives online also feels hopelessly polished and inaccurate — and you feel, somehow, that you alone are the inauthentic one.”
“Far from spoiled, the young people who have written to me don’t seem to feel like they deserve happiness.”
Of course, anxiety about yourself and the tendency to compare yourself unfavorably to others is hardly new. Those features seem to come included. Or you might say, human nature doesn’t change much.
But what has changed is that with social media it’s like the depressing Christmas letters presenting “our perfect family and their wonderful, high-achieving lives,” comes not once a year but daily, multiple times a day.
The other consequence of ubiquitous social media is the implicit idea that the self is a product or brand, that it is up to each of us to curate, produce and promote ours and to come up with “new and improved” on a regular basis.
So I’m with Havrilesky in extending more empathy to those generations that were born into the world of social media and weaned on it, the Millennials and Gen-Z. The pressures to manufacture the incredible self, with the assurance that if you don’t you are a loser, have been amped way up by tech and social media. At least in these ways I think Havrilesky is probably right, “that it is tougher to be a young person today than it has been for decades.”
At church today there were baptisms and the renewal of baptism. The sacrament which tells us who, by the grace of God, we are is an antidote to the poison of “never enough” anxiety. “You are the beloved child of God, holy and beautiful, rejoice,” were the words pronounced over us as we were touched again by the waters of creation.
Your life and self are a gift of a good, loving God, not something you have to manufacture, package and promote daily. Trust this and live!