Okay, “Destroyer of a Generation” is harsh. But WSJ columnist Jeffrey Zaslow uses him as a great (and attention getting) starting point for discussing a serious question: WHY do so many young people, including the younger part of our current workforce, have such a huge sense of entitlement? — such a sense that they have a right to benefits, privileges, positions , and praise that they have not truly earned or worked hard for?
[This entry contains various links to Wall Street Journal articles and video, and as best I can tell they do not require subscriptions to access. But my apologies if I am wrong!]
It’s a topic that I have wanted to discuss since Zaslow’s excellent April 20, 2007 article: “The Most-Praised Generation Goes to Work” (which has been sitting in my floor waiting to be written about since that time). The entitlement sentiment amongst the young is not just an annoyance — it has real societal impact, as Zaslow says in that article:
“America’s praise fixation has economic, labor and social ramifications. Adults who were overpraised as children are apt to be narcissistic at work and in personal relationships, says Jean Twenge, a psychology professor at San Diego State University. Narcissists aren’t good at basking in other people’s glory, which makes for problematic marriages and work relationships, she says.”
Later in the article, an excellent insight is made concerning the possible damage that raising self-focused children can do to their future marriages:
“But many young married people today, who grew up being told regularly that they were special, can end up distrusting compliments from their spouses. Judy Neary, a relationship therapist in Alexandria, Va., says it’s common for her clients to say things like: ‘I tell her she’s beautiful all the time, and she doesn’t believe it.’ Ms. Neary suspects: ‘There’s a lot of insecurity, with people wondering, “Is it really true?”‘”
I recall how the must-praise culture began to be a big part of where I worked with numerous mechanisms put in place to maximize recognition of others. In this light, one of the comments made in the article by Bob Nelson — popular counselor to companies on praise issues — particularly funny. Saying of those over 60 (like himself, apparently): “Yes, I get recognition every week. It’s called a paycheck.”
Mr. Nelson comments in the article about differences between the oldest generations, the Baby Boomers, and younger generations in terms of how dependent they are on praise. In particular, the comments he makes concerning the youngest generations are sobering (emphases mine):
“Workers under 40, he says, require far more stroking. They often like ‘trendy, name-brand merchandise’ as rewards, but they also want near-constant feedback. ‘It’s not enough to give praise only when they’re exceptional, because for years they’ve been getting praise just for showing up,’ he says.”
The article is a good read, but the one that has garnered recent attention is the recent offering in which Mr. Zaslow asks if Mr. Rogers is in any way to blame for this current state of affairs. You can read the article here: “Blame It on Mr. Rogers; Why Young Adults Feel So Entitled” — which, to be fair, doesn’t put as much burden squarely on the shoulders of Mr. Rogers as it might seem at first glance.
The result of the apparent outrage (Mr. Zaslow: “…slammed with e-mails from readers…”), is this follow up offering: “The Entitlement Epidemic: Who’s Really to Blame?” This one has a video embedded, as well, in which Mr. Zaslow discusses the situation with a 27-year-old (fellow WSJ.com columnist Amy Meehan) who is refreshingly frank about her generation’s sense of entitlement, how it came about, and some things that should be considered. (If you only want to see the video, you can click here, but you may have to watch a commercial first. I recommend checking out the article, itself, which has the video embedded there, commercial free.)
For the sake of being thorough, another reason I have wanted to write about this for some time was the excellent article sent to my by CM shortly after I read the WSJ piece (actually, sent a day earlier, but I do not think I read it until afterward). It can be read here: MeTube, MySpace and a Culture of Narcissism. Fantastic article.
All of this deserves more commentary than I have time to write. (Though I do plan to write something. Plans, always plans…) The scriptures that come to mind (and y’all will likely think of better ones) are these:
“But know this, that in the last days perilous times will come: For men will be lovers of themselves…”
2 Timothy 3:1-2
To be sure, all societies throughout history have contained individuals who are lovers of themselves. But has self-love ever been as institutionalized and ingrained as it seems to be today? Or has there ever been a culture of narcissism so pervasive as ours is? (That is, a culture that has survived?)
“Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself.”
This is exactly the opposite of what we see encouraged in our youngest generations. As a former high school teacher, I can say that the motivation I was encouraged to use the most was, “Get a good education so that you can go out there and get a great job and make a lot of money!” and, with some wonderful exceptions, the generation I saw growing up in that school there showed exactly the attributes you would expect to be absorbed from such a culture (including some you may not think of at first). I’m not saying that that isn’t powerful motivation — it certainly is! But in place of (or at least not kept in check by) a stress on greater good and a healthy altruism, what are the long term effects?
I think we will see those effects in the years not too far ahead of us. Frankly, we are seeing those effects now.