This weekend my youngest daughter graduated! I sat in an auditorium listening to 700-ish names called, hands shaken, inspirational speeches from institutional and political leaders, and from the accomplished young adults themselves. I enjoyed the crowd of giddy parents, some in sweats and some dressed as if to relive their own rite of passage some thirty years before, sipping on their Timmies’ and trying to clap while taking a photograph of the tiny blue dot in a sea of blue dots that would forever commemorate their child’s grand moment. A montage played in my mind of tender memories; my daughter as a young girl and her lightness of spirit, tumbling through the door sprinkling laughter, constantly singing and creating. She did things on a computer that her IT father found jaw-droppingly impressive. I can’t tell you what those were, because I can’t do them, and I don’t even understand them. I am Tina Fey in “Date Night” still calling the flash drive a “thingy” that you put in the thingy connector. My daughter never said “that’s too hard” she just figured it out, with an innate sense of “I can do that”. If something lit a spark in her she sought out how to master it. She taught herself how to make jewelry that was sellable in grown up stores at age ten, via you tube videos. She took art classes in her spare time, made music videos at the park with her friends, and wrote songs. She dressed up in gowns, could jog a mile in tiny plastic shoes, applied perfect lipstick, scrapbooked, and designed clothing sketches. She was brilliant in choir and dance and had this rare stage presence that I swear I am completely entirely objective about, because my other daughter, whom I celebrate as joyfully and who has as many great gifts, did not have this one.
I am going to interject here, in the middle of this montage for a brief confessional. I was perhaps not a conventional parent, and did some unconventional parenting THINGS. For example, I didn’t tell my kids that they needed to “respect authority” for authority’s sake. Like many of us, I wanted to give my children the benefit of my mistakes, and the unquestioning reverence to authority figures, for me, was fear based and unhealthy. I taught them that teachers, GASP, were paid to help them learn. It is their job, I said. They are not the boss of you. You should not fear them, and if you live inside fear of their judgment of you, no one comes out better off. You would be better served, to help them help you. They are not perfect. But the system is this: the world is giving you an opportunity to learn, in order to help you experience equality and opportunity. It may not be perfect, and the system may be outdated, and not a lot of fun, but that is the deal. And you won’t feel happy, or good about yourself if you don’t at least engage in your experience while you are there.
I went on. Academia is not the path to excellence for everyone. There is nothing wrong with getting the grades, or achieving, but it doesn’t make you a good, or worthwhile person. And if it is a struggle for you, or not the way you best relate to the world, there are other ways to create a meaningful life. It does not mean anything about you, and it does not determine your worth. You are worthy, without having to prove yourself or earn anything.
NOW, if you are on the “anti-entitlement” team, don’t throw your phone across the room, or smash down your laptop screen just yet. Because the model of inherent worth, as I like to call it in my practice, is not a pro-entitlement position.
I EXIST THEREFORE I AM WORTHY is very different than EVERYONE SHOULD SERVE ME AT THEIR OWN EXPENSE. In fact, it is a sense of inherent worth, of being worth of giving and receiving love independent of external markers of success, that enables us to be the best givers, and contributors. Without worth, we are in a constant state of emotional neediness or pain.
So back to my tale of little daughter, the joy giver and seeker and doer of all impossible things, there enters in a villain —all good stories have them—when in the eighth grade the authorities dished out the “here’s what you’re up against” speech, kicking off an era of what I call miseducation. She was tired in no time. Barraged by statistical realities of her imminent struggle and doom, pressure to meet expectations, the new economic and environmental reality, the additional ten percent performance required to get in the door of a decent University (I had pre-acceptance with an 81 percent grade twelve average), the additional necessity of distinguishing oneself with an above grade school from the oodles of other generic degree graduates. Her propensity for joy and excellence was pitted against fear and doom. Hours, days, weeks, months if you count them up, of agonizing over her meager “80’s” student performance. Of comparing to ‘more perfect’ others. Eventually, she got her 90’s, via focused application and innate intelligence, and in a school scaled for difficulty no less, which is pretty impressive by its own standards. Did it cost her efficiency, and well-being, and countless hours of worry and escapism? Yes.
And, yet, to some she may appear ‘entitled’. Because I have driven her to school. Because she didn’t also hold down a job while getting the nineties (her application to dozens in a recession where the over schooled adults weren’t even getting them were not successful). Because she isn’t really a type A personality. Because she complains about pressure. She’s a picky eater.
What is the accusation of the entitlement generation, the ME generation, the millennials and post millennials, anyhow? And what is the motivation behind the accusation? The portrait painted of the entitled generation is one of petulance, dissatisfaction, laziness, and lack of values. Essentially a modern day Verruca Salt, owing, theoretically to being raised indulgently, or with privilege, or with excessive praise, all captured in an Instagram, snap chatting image obsessed self involvement.
OUCH. I’m not gonna lie, it kinda harshes my proud mom vibe.
In preparation for this blog I did myself some readin’. And I done did hear myself some countervailing arguments; how we BB’s and Gen X’s have left a shitty world behind; how we have cut corners, sketched out on morals, and been more self involved than those we throw shade on (this is modern lingo for judging, calling out, bringing down). We were more rebellious, less ethical, more shit-disturbing, and while less “narcissistic” in the social media blasting sense, we certainly weren’t less about ourselves. Some positions dug into positive and negative attributes of the ME GEN. Some painted a socio-economic view in place of a character attack. My personal answer to accusation is NOT to throw back the accusation. Ya, you think they’re entitled, well you’re entitled!!! Nanny, nanny. But to understand where it comes from.
Typically the sources that rally us, that cry out, dispute and point fingers, are not the thoughtfully researched pieces of journalism that I read in prep for sharing with you today. There are memes and jokes and call outs. But they are there none the less. And they are doing some stinging.
Yet there is a fallacy in pointing to generational conditions, and making moral, and psychological generalizations about its members.
And there is lack of value in this kind of generalization.
I read this student’s rebuke of her generation last week, simply because it landed in my inbox. It pointed to the dangers of her peers’ blindness to the prosperity around them, underexposure to adversity, and ungratefulness for their obvious privilege. She was responding to a politician’s speech about lack of prosperity for youth, not to a poll of her generation’s beliefs. But more importantly, she cited fast food and iphones and laptops as conditions of prosperity. And maybe we have those things. Maybe the young have those things. But that doesn’t solve for making a living, it doesn’t solve for climate change, it doesn’t solve for health, mental and emotional health, worth. Prosperity is not the stuff of convenience. I am not taking an anti-capitalism stance here either. I like my small luxuries. But crushing emotional pressure is just that, and isn’t lessened by your Starbucks or you access to technology. And confusing PAIN and FEAR with lack of gratitude, is, well, CONFUSED.
So let’s peek for a second at what is going on when the entitlement finger is wagged, shall we?
Who are the young that are pissing us off? What are they complaining about? Do we even know? Are we responding to a celebrity’s representation of them? Or a politician’s?
If someone is entitled, they are seen to expect unfairly; to expect without earning. Who feels unfairness? Well typically someone who has worked hard, or struggled, or suffered, or gone without, or feels a lack of validation, appreciation, or relative award for their work, or sacrifice, or suffering. Someone who sees and believes that you have it easier, but that you don’t appreciate that you have it easier.
You’re entitled!, really says “I feel hurt and oppressed by what I perceive your wants, needs, or expectations to be”. We don’t feel troubled when we feel our cup is full and we are brimming with love. We feel the need to point, when we feel in fear and lack.
Some of a generational gap, I venture, just derives from the GAP, and not from the generation per se. Typically we seek to provide more for our children, to solve for our pain, and all of this providing more from one generation to another normalizes decreased adversity, in some sense. We don’t expect to walk to school in minus 40 in our bare feet, lighting candles for warmth along the way, like our parents before us. Isn’t that par for the parenting course?
Some of it derives from the value we place on suffering, as a culture, or a nation, or a family. There is a notion for some, that if we sacrifice we are redeemed. The reasons for this go beyond the scope of my tribute to grad 2019. But consider for a moment, other cultures where achievement is not the be all to end all. Family is more important. Celebration is more important. I am not choosing one over another, I am just drawing our attention away from a singular measure and focus.
There are different ways to show up in the world that are valuable. My sister said a terrible thing about herself in this whole discussion of academic pursuits about being a example of “not successful”. Well, my sister is the kindest, most giving, loving and inherently joyful person I know. If we could monetize her heart it would be worth big bucks. She is not a type A. As kids she wasn’t the one staying up until three am to get the grades, or cleaning the house in hopes of a pat on the back from Mom. But she treats people with kindness. I call that a success story.
At the end of the day, it feels pretty shitty to be judged, and to be judged for your inclusion in a group by one that doesn’t see you, or understand your personal story is an extra ouchy twist on that.
And EVEN if you are that kid, whose Mom told you you were a super hero because she wanted to correct for competitiveness and somehow it went sideways now you are all offended that the world is not as benevolent as mom and you express this in a super annoying way that grates on the rest of us and makes you seem like a baby, well shit, how are we making YOU or the world any better by shaming you for it?
Finger pointing is divisive.
I am reminded of a wonderful thing a judge once said in a case precedent I was reading on accident and injury law. He was speaking about the act of driving, and it went something along the lines of getting in a hunk of metal and travelling at great speeds with numerous obstacles and interferences and a statistical likelihood of fatality really didn’t bear scrutiny well.
Bearing scrutiny. The expression stuck with me. Well I am here to say that none of us bear scrutiny well. It hurts us to compare. It hurts us to compete. It hurts us to pick each other apart, to dig for faults, to take each other’s grief personally, to focus on one another’s faults, to the exclusion of our strengths and gifts.
I don’t want to scrutinize you. I don’t want to hold you to your mistakes or your failures. I don’t want to see you this way. The truth doesn’t live there. And a better reality isn’t found there.
I get scared, too, of not being enough. Of crushing expectation. Of not being seen or validated or understood for all that I give. We all want to be a sympathetic character in our personal movie of life. But my fear, is not your greed. Today I am going to stand up to the legacy of failure and judgment. I am going to say that I see your efforts, and your history, and your struggle, and your savvy, and your ability to rise up when it was really effin hard, and tell you that I am proud of you for all of it. But my wish is to free you from the notion that it makes you greater than some and less than others, enough and simultaneously never enough because someone had it worse. Your value does not derive from your suffering. May you know that. And may we share in handing over a different baton. One of collaboration, and inclusion. One that laughs together, and builds for one another. May we lift each other out of the scary aloneness, the never-enough ness, the burden of each other’s failures and wins.
We are all entitled to love.
— Love Erin
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