Wednesday, 30 May 2012

The 'me' generation

It's funny, the things that happen when you starting putting stuff out there. After the long hiatus between conceiving the idea of this blog and then finally plucking up the courage to commit myself to words, things are flowing thick and fast towards me that are relevant.

A friend of mine posted this 'image' on Facebook yesterday. I'm not sure of the origins of this story - if you Google the school principal's name and the school, there are a gazillion entries listed that all repeat the statement made by the judge - who isn't named anywhere. If anyone out there can find the back story behind this image - which seems to have been posted and quoted everywhere from Facebook to LinkedIn, commercial sites and various people's blogs - I'd be interested to know.
The comments that accompany this on the various sites appear to come from a very broad range of individual viewpoints, but there is consensus on one point - to quote one of them, 'it's about time someone said it.' It just happens that, earlier in the afternoon yesterday, I'd got into a conversation with a colleague at work about our changing society - we get into these hefty philosophical discussions semi-regularly. He was speaking about the essence of true democracy. That in a democracy there is, essentially, a relationship between the individual and a governing authority, but that there is an active participatory aspect to that relationship. On the part of the individual, the benefits are that we belong to a community which has an obligation to protect us; here via laws and policing and from external threats via our armed forces. That same authority is responsible for helping create and govern the resources that are required by the community. Our part, as individuals - as he put it - is to vote, because unless we participate in the business of choosing our leaders, we have no right to complain if tey fall short of our expectations. We must also pay our taxes - because without funds, our leaders have nothing with which to create the services we require. And, we must also be prepared to be part of national service when required, and contribute to that protection of our community. Also, he stressed that this is not a relationship of equals. As individuals, we have to accept that we are part of somethingwhere the other 'party' is something much more powerful than we are...

Now, I get confused about which 'generation' we're up to, and exactly where the boundary lines are between the different labels we have asigned to different generational groups. According to some definitions, I was born right at the tail end of the baby boomer years, and others indicate that I belong to Generation X. I do know that my oldest son definitely falls within Gen Y, but I'm not sure about No.2. In any case, there are various attributes that have been collectively assigned to members of these generation gropus - not all of them complimentary.

This un-named judge hits out at the current generation - I'm not sure what they're called. My own appellation, 'the me-generation' isn't new, and has been applied to generations past, but I've used it again deliberately because I'm not sure it isn't apt for this latest crop far more than any preceding generations.

I brought my kids up pretty old-school as I mentioned in my previous post. We didn't have a lot of money - like my parents before me - so they didn't have a lot of 'stuff'. I covered what they needed, and managed a few of their wants. Anything over and above that had to wait for birthdays, or presents from other family. Like me, they made a lot of their own fun.

They both spent time as RAAF cadets - the eldest for some years. Great character building stuff. With the eldest, that was a deliberate choice on my part - following up on his, then, intention to join the RAAF when he left school. Thing was, he wasn't actually doing anything towards that particularly, at the time, school work wise, activity wise, or anything else - just a lot of talk about being the next top gun and flying fighter planes. So I challenged him to put his time and effort where his mouth was and join the cadets because I figured that if he couldn't deal with the services at that level, he wasn't going to make it for real. It was good for him. He's been doing his own ironing since he was thirteen - I begged ignorance of service standard ironing and left him to it. I left him to sew all the badges onto his uniforms too - again feigning ignorance as to how they were to go - MUCH cursing and needle pricked fingers in the background! But he did it. He learned that if I yelled at him, I'd probably lost my temper for a pretty good reason, as opposed to a drill seargeant yelling at him just because they could...and that he stood a good chance of other people in his future going off at him for whatever reason and he'd just have to learn to deal with it and work out the rights and wrongs of any given situation for himself and respond appropriately, rather than just going off in a sulk because he felt hard done by.

I could go on giving examples, but that isn't the point really. I guess, in reading the judge's comments, I felt myself responding internally with something along the lines of, well, yes, of course. As adults, we know that if we need something to happen, we have to get up and do whatever our part in it is to achieve that goal. If we want something, we have to get up and go earn the money it takes to buy it. If we're not happy about a situation, we have to face up to what is going on and do whatever we need to to rectify it and if that's not possible, find a way to learn to live with it. We know, because life has shown us, that if we put effort in, we get something back. If we sit around waiting for the world to shower largesse upon us, we'll be waiting a long time - probably getting hungry, thirsty, cold and tired while we wait... I don't believe that there is a lower age limit for when we should start teaching our children any of this. When they're tiny, they love to be involved. Doing 'grown up stuff' makes them feel like they're ten feet tall when they aren't even hip high to us. If they think washing dishes looks cool, we can give them a stool to reach the sink, invest in shatterproof crockery, accept that it might not be done perfectly, and allow them to become part of the cooperative that every household needs to be if everyone in it is going to function in a sustainable fashion. In time, they'll learn, with practice, how to get them squeaky clean.

Learning to engage with life, all of it, not just the fun bits, used to be an automatic part of growing up. We all had chores when I was a kid. Certain things had to be done before we were allowed out to play. And when play time came, it was up to us to find things to do. I remember complaining once to my mother that I was bored, only to be told, with devastating matter of factness, "only boring people are bored." I hear a lot, these days, about how tough life is for kids, how much pressure they're under, and how hard it is for them to fit everything in. Undoubtedly many things have changed since I was a teen. Certainly, in many ways, life was simpler then. But I don't believe that the complexities of contemporary life preclude the basics of being an active, participating member of a household, doing chores, finding things to do, getting on with the things that have to be done even if they're not the most fun activities in the world, and going out and getting an after school job if having extra cash of their own is important to them.

If we don't teach them these skills incrementally, exactly when are they going to learn them, and understand that the world outside our front doors isn't going to provide them with everything they expect just because they want it?