"A significant other is anyone in your presence."
(Happy Musings is a newspaper feature syndicated by King Features that I create each day to remind us all that “Life is wonderful!.”
As our latest American Idol stood on stage, humbly and graciously accepting his title, he revealed his generation's Achilles Heel. "ME and Adam (the runner-up) decided we would just..." It went something like that. But it's the "ME and anybody" that concerns me. I'm old enough to know and remember that "anyone comes before ME" in a sentence or a thought.
This phenomenon of "ME first" in colloquial speech is everywhere today. I've heard it standing in line at a lunch counter. I've heard it in movies. I've heard it coming out of the mouths of young people who work in my business. And, when I correct them, they don't get it. They don't get the deeper meaning implied, or the civility missing. Then I stopped correcting these people and just listened to this pattern. Even yesterday in my gallery an elementary school teacher was saying, "ME and my daughter came to town to..." Ugh!
Then, as so often happens when one is not expecting it, the answer came. I flipped on the TV while I was having breakfast. Not a usual thing, but an unusual thing happened. There on the screen was a woman, Jean Twenge, explaining this very phenomenon. She was speaking about her new book THE NARCISSISM EPIDEMIC and it was all about "Generation Me." I had not known technically there was such a thing. But, besides being an author, Twenge is a psychology researcher with a Ph.D., a professor and speaker. She had research, statistics, antidotes, and everyday common sense to explain this trend.
Dr. Twenge spoke of how all this self-centeredness got started, the emphasis in our homes and schools on self-esteem with our children, and the lack of allowing our young to understand where they truly stand in the scheme of things, whatever the scheme. By giving everyone a trophy in a competition or not grading in school an unrealistic self-image is created, which is sure to be a set-up for failure in the real world. It is important for us all to know the truth, from small children to adults. If a child does not excel in sports or mental activities, he or she might be good at being a friend. And, if he or she wishes to pursue an area in which he or she is not the best, that person can get better through work.
The other interesting point Jean Twenge made was that there was no evidence to support the previously accepted idea that a high degree of self-esteem or self-importance leads to success in life or even happiness. Better that each person know their true capabilities and their value to the whole of any group. And, as far as happiness goes, her suggestion was to emphasize gratitude. Those who are most grateful around the world seem to be the happiest.
There is so much to this area of study, it is wonderful that it is coming to light. Our desire to have everything and give everything to our children might just have led us to the economic crisis we find ourselves in. Now we are doing without, learning to appreciate and enjoy what we have, not moaning over what we do not have.
By Twenge's estimation, we are just about the most narcissistic society on the planet. I say we need to have a better American Idol, an American Ideal. That would be a society that promotes wholesome values -- truthfulness, goodness, kindness, effort, gratitude, selflessness, etc. Perhaps it could be called "Generation You First."
“Life is wonderful! Don’t forget it.”
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c 2008 Sally Huss