More Than a Feeling

I read this article by David Brooks – “If It Feels Right” – in the New York Times the other day, and it made me wary and then it made me think. Lacking the usual implication of impending apocalypse at the hands of “youngsters”, Brooks pretty calmly suggests that people my age lack any real guiding sense of morality or ethics that goes much beyond doing what feels right at a given moment. The article contains quotation after quotation from my generation, claiming to know as little as possible about as much as possible. I went to college, so the perspective isn’t all that surprising.

It’s true that there are things we simply won’t ever know; and it’s true that admitting you don’t know is better than pretending you do know. But that’s not what this is. My generation, by-and-large, likes to camp out at the openings of the trails past generations spent their lives navigating; only, we couple it with a cynicism that scoffs at effort, unless we know precisely where the path will lead us (and a stupidity to think we deserve to choose what we’ll find at the end).

So there you see my default position: annoyance at my peers. But the article, while not giving them a total pass, significantly relegates the burden of blame to mostly general lack-of-maturity/ lack-of-experience type charges, which, okay I agree that those are true, but then you also have to discuss the growing syndrome of 20-somethings intent on acting like teenagers for longer and longer, and so eventually you still arrive at a place where some responsibility has to be laid at the feet of those who have the ability to grow up, just not the desire (and sometimes maybe not the incentive) to.

Interestingly, the article states that “the study says more about adult America than about youthful America.” Now that could just be interpreted as the classic blame-it-on-the-parents argument; but the more I thought about it, the more I perceived an air of validity and truth to it.

I Think the Sheer Fact of This Movie is Judgment Enough

I just started reading the Book of Judges, which, you may or may not know or care, many scholars believe was written by Samuel, whose mentor, you may or may not know or care, was Eli. And it turns out that Eli’s relationship with his sons contains an interesting parallel with Joshua and Israel. Both Joshua and Eli were incredibly esteemed by their communities for their leadership and guidance. But both also failed to train the generation that followed directly after them, in the ways of the Lord.

Joshua failed to prepare the next generation of Israelites, who, we learn, were not brought up in the knowledge of the Lord or what he did for Israel; Eli had two sons, whom he let basically get away with everything, until they pretty brazenly took the Ark of the Covenant (which essentially contained the Lord’s essence…just read the Bible) into battle – which was forbidden – where they promptly got it stolen before they were both killed. There’s a sad, poignant moment in 1 Samuel, chapter 4, when Eli, old and blind and alone, is sitting along the side of the road, waiting for news from the battle. He is filled with regret for not raising his sons better, and he knows the news isn’t going to be good, and he’s right.

All of this has made me think. I agree that a lot of late 20th Century parenting did a bellyflop of a job when it came to preparing their kids for adulthood, and they may be responsible for creating the seeming allergic reaction to personal responsibility. But the kind of wholesale moral relativism/individualism has just as much to do with a youth culture that saw an opportunity and just ran with it. This is all, as well, to say nothing of the roles innumerable other cultural variables (e.g. 9/11, increasingly techno-driven society, etc…) play in this whole matter.

And yet. I was a little bothered by how one-sided the article was. I kept waiting for them to share some perspectives by responsible young people who are engaged and intelligent and thoughtful, as opposed to merely the lethal combination of opinionated and outspoken. I know that other side exists, because I know them. They have brilliant ideas. They are wickedly funny. They understand technology and how to use it in uniquely creative ways. They hold jobs, they have ambitions, they don’t flinch at monogamy.

But the biggest difference between them actually isn’t probably that they make any fewer mistakes, it’s that they’ve stopped romanticizing their mistakes so unrelentingly damned much.


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It Has Come to This

September 2011
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