The deepest irony about the young being cynical is that they are the ones that need to move, and dance, and trust the most. They need to cartwheel though a freshly burst galaxy of still-forming but glowing ideas, never scared to say “Yes! Why not!” — or their generation’s culture will be nothing but the blandest, and most aggressive, or most defended of old tropes.
When young people are cynical, and snarky, they shoot down their own future. When you keep saying “No,” all that’s left is what other people said “Yes” to before you were born. Really, “No” is no choice at all.*
If we stop going, we stop learning …
If we’re not willing to keep learning, we should probably stop going.**
The generations are changing.
We seem to be more often confronted by the downside. I’ve just googled “depressed generation” and come up with more than 52 million pages, headed with Psychology Today’s article Why So Many Teens Today Have Become Depressed.
But I also want to wonder about the upside of a more sensitive and vulnerable generation. I wonder how I, as a baby boomer, might be able to help them develop, even as they help me to develop.
Seth Godin reminds me that I not only want to keep going but I want to develop and grow as I go.
John O’Donohue describes what lies beneath the surface of human progress:
‘While the culture is all gloss and pace on the outside, within it is too often haunted and lost. The commercial edge of so-called “progress” has cut away a huge region of human tissue and webbing that held is in communion with one another. We have fallen out of belonging. Consequently, when we stand before crucial thresholds in our lives we have no rituals to protect, encourage, and guide us as we cross over into the unknown.’^
Last evening a friend shared how when at school she went for a walk with a troubled friend during the dinner hour and how it was only at the end of their work did her friend get to sharing what was troubling her. We reflected on how this kind of communication is more likely to have been texted today, and that it is unlikely the conversation would have been able to develop to the point where something can be shared and support of actual presence be offered.
Technologies such as social media cannot replace our rituals of connection but accentuate the good and the bad of how we connect. John Steinbeck proffers there is only one story:
“I believe that there is one story in the world, and only one, that has frightened and inspired us, so that we live in a Pearl White serial of continuing thought and wonder. Humans are caught — in their lives, in their thoughts, in their hungers and ambitions, in their avarice and cruelty, and in their kindness and generosity too — in a net of good and evil. I think this is the only story we have and that it occurs on all levels of feeling and intelligence. Virtue and vice were warp and woof of our first consciousness, and they will be the fabric of our last, and this despite any changes we may impose on field and river and mountain, on economy and manners. There is no other story.”^^
Steinbeck knew nothing of the disconnection and tetheredness technology would bring, of the ugliness and even evil of those who troll and socially abuse, but here awe find his virtue and vice in amplified forms. His solution still stands for our smart, con-nected*^ world:
“In every bit of honest writing in the world… there is a base theme. Try to understand men, if you understand each other you will be kind to each other. Knowing a man well never leads to hate and nearly always leads to love.”^^
We have left the last age of being human and are moving through a liminal landscape toward the next. This is where we can become most disorientated, where are stories, myths and rituals help us most of all to find our way through. O’Donohue’s pointing towards blessings not only identifies our capacity for virtue but also identifies the most primal ritual:
‘In the parched deserts of postmodernity a blessing can be like the discovery of a fresh well. It would be lovely if we could rediscover our power to bless one another. I believe each of us can bless.’^
I can sense Steinbeck nodding in agreement with this even as he writes:
“As a writer you should not judge. You should understand.”^^
How many text messages would never be sent if we held the rule: “say five good things to a person before saying something bad”?
Liminal space is disorientating:
‘Life is unfair in a non-linear way.’^*
Something can appear as a quite different thing. Perhaps, and it is a big PERHAPS, some of the anxiety and despair and PERHAPS depression, is a form of cynicism and we need to find ways through to compassion:
“Cynicism means you presume everything will end in disappointment. […] Cynicism keeps you pinned to the spot, in the same posture, forever.”*
Perhaps, perhaps, my love of valuing and love of ritual, of the deep down talents and dreams and stories of people will help the younger generation to move from judgement to openess, from cynicism to compassion and from fear to courage.
I certainly know I need them to help me “move, and dance, and trust the most […] to cartwheel though a freshly burst galaxy of still-forming but glowing ideas, never scared to say “Yes! Why not!””*
Maybe we are moving towards the beginning of something new:
‘A beginning is ultimately ann invitation to open toward the gifts and growth that are stored up for us. To refuse to begin can be an act of great self-neglect.’^
(*Caitlin Moran, quoted in Maria Popova’s Brain Pickings: Caitlin Moran on Fighting the Cowardice of Cynicism.)
(**From Seth Godin’s blog: We learn as we go.)
(^From John O Donohue’s To Bless the Space Between Us.)
(^^John Steinbeck, quoted in Maria Popova’s Brain Pickings: The Only Story in the World.)
(*^I use “con-nected” to suggest the illusion of connection that technology can project.)
(^*From Nassim Taleb’s Fooled by Randomness.)