March 18, 2019

Back In My Day, These Damn Kids Stayed Off My Lawn

old man's eye

Members of every generation have a favorite pass time in common: criticizing the generation that follows them. Regardless of when "today" is, the youth of today are always screwed up. "Back in my day..." is where we find the correct way to do everything, and "these damn kids" need to do things like we did. They also need to get the hell off my lawn! Some of this is undoubtedly driven by arrogance and inaccurate stereotypes, but I think much of it simply reflects the older generation's distaste for change and difficulty remembering how they were viewed by the previous generation when they were young.

Social values change over time. Depending on your point of view, you may regard this as progress, evidence of moral decay, or something in between. For many atheists, trends toward secularism are likely to be an encouraging sign of progress. I think most of us would agree that the fact that young people today are far less interested in organized religion is a step in the right direction. For many fundamentalist Christians, these same trends probably reflect a frightening disintegration of our culture. That might explain why so many of them are motivated to slow it down or reverse it.

Most reasonable people, if they bother to put any thought into it, will probably recognize that changing social values are rarely all good or all bad. There is plenty of nuance in the sense that most of us can probably recognize some very positive changes, some very negative changes, and many changes that fall in between in terms of how desirable they are. There will be things about the younger generation the older generation won't like, but there should be plenty of other things to celebrate. Unfortunately, this is a case where we tend to focus on what we don't like.

I vividly remember how my generation was viewed by the previous generation. I didn't like it one bit. I didn't think it was accurate, and it seemed to have negative consequences. In some respects, it was de-motivational. In other respects, it created an unhelpful wedge between us and them. Since I did not like the experience of being looked down upon by the previous generation, I'm not inclined to look down on the generations that have followed mine. I recognize that many of the stereotypes are inaccurate and that they obscure individual differences. I also recognize that the negative attitudes I might have toward change are my issue and not someone else's fault.

With that in mind, I'd like to mention a few of the things I admire about many of the younger people I've known. First, many have what I'd consider healthier attitudes toward work than many in my generation. They tend to recognize the value of maintaining a healthy work-life balance and seem less likely to fall victim to workaholism and burnout. Second, many seem more flexible and open-minded in general. This includes tolerance and even acceptance of alternatives to how things were traditionally done. I think their views on matters such as same-sex marriage, climate change, income inequality, and religion reflect real progress. Third, I think that many young people have a healthier skepticism regarding not just religion but also about the government, the media, and other established institutions. As long as it remains healthy and does not turn into paranoia or the "tear-it-all-down" attitude that reared its head in the 2016 U.S. presidential election, I think this will serve them well.