We live in a magical land where everybody born since 1985 is super special. I know, that sounds like something you hear on a Powerpuff Girls episode. It’s downright silly. But if you take a look around, it sure does seem like we have bought that concept hook, line and sinker in 21st century America.
Garrison Keillor ends the introduction of his beloved Lake Wobegone with “and all the children are above average.” The line gets a chuckle every time. We can laugh along with the story-telling master because we know that everybody can’t be above average. On the other hand, almost every American believes that they have above average intelligence…despite evidence to the contrary.
We’ve all known slack-jawed humanoids who would be long gone from the mortal realm if breathing weren’t automatic. It’s good to be friends with folks like that. It makes us feel smart. Of course, while you bask in your brilliance, the co-worker in the next cubicle thinks that you are a few clowns short of a circus. Placing ourselves on pedestals so we can look down on our fellow man is a time honored practice of our species. I expect that we’ve been doing it since we made the evolutionary break with the ape. And the ape was happy to see us go. We were too stupid to be content with hanging from a branch and eating a banana.
Like everything else in our young century, this has gotten out of hand. And as you might suspect, it’s entirely the fault of the Baby Boomers. We produced the Millennials. We loved them, pampered them, educated them and ruined them. Every last one of them believes deep down that they are super special and bound for glory. And now, as the Boomers get ready to retire on a diet of Ramen noodles and afternoon cocktails, it is their offspring who will soon be running the world. God help us all.
My parents were members of the storied Greatest Generation. They survived the Great Depression and won World War II. They weren’t so great with fostering positive self image in the kids.
My Dad was a hard worker who got things done. And since he never hired anybody to do anything, there was always something to do. My folks owned a small bungalow in a Jersey shore town. It was a summer rental and always needed repair. During the pre-season, Dad would drag me down to the little shack to help him. I didn’t look forward to those father-son treks.
On one of these work furloughs, a few of my buddies came along for the ride. They were just hanging out, killing time until Dad released me.
“Helen,” my Dad said to me, “bring me that 2 by 4.”
I did as I was told.
“Helen, what have you done with the measuring tape?”
“I don’t know, Dad. I think it’s in the house.”
“Go find it. And be quick about it, Helen.”
My friends were puzzled. One of them asked my father, “Mr. Fink, why are you calling Richard, Helen?”
“It’s short for Helen Keller,” Dad replied.” Because the way this kid works he must be deaf, dumb and blind.”
Not a self image building exercise by any means.
Dad really didn’t see any reason to pat me on the back. Life was hard, times get tough and you’d better be ready for it. I never heard him complain about much of anything and he expected me to make it on my own. Fortunately for me, I was an only child and my mother spoiled the hell out of me. Still, she was far from perfect on the encouraging Richard front.
My mother often told me, “Think big and you will be big.” And then, as soon as I came up with grandiose ideas, she would turn on a dime. “Just who do you think you are?”
And so, I grew up, like many others in my generation, not knowing what to think. Was I stupid, special or somewhere in between? I wasn’t the only one living in confusion. I was a card carrying member of the Me Generation. We weren’t focused on getting ahead in life. No, we were on a mission to discover ourselves. I was there and I still have no idea what that meant.
That’s when the wheels started coming off the bus. The men and women who won the war and built the world’s greatest economy knew that the key to success was hard work. Boomers weren’t crazy about that idea. There had to be an easier way. The positive mental attitude (PMA) movement of the eighties was the answer. All you had to do was stare in the mirror every morning before work and say, “Today’s going to be a GREAT day! I can feel it! I’m a winner!” Is it any wonder that our kids are obsessed with selfies?
Yes, those overpriced PMA cassette tape sets were the key to fame and fortune. Except when they weren’t. Lots of people who got hoarse from yelling at themselves still ended up with crappy jobs. Instead of giving up and working hard, the Boomers doubled down on PMA. They believed that their failure to make it to easy street was due to a lack of encouragement when they were young. They weren’t going to let that happen to their kids. Next time, it was going to be different.
Oh boy, was it different.
Boomers wanted to produce a generation that would change the world. So, those children were told that they were special, actually super special. Everyone was a winner. Everyone got a trophy or a ribbon. Everyone was just great. And the result was…unexpected.
I’ve met super special twenty-somethings who have never worked a day in their lives. Why? They couldn’t find a job that matched their college major. Not that they did a lot of looking. Instead they stayed home, petted the cat and kept the couch warm. The cat was very happy with the arrangement.
Of course, not all Millennials are lazy homesteaders. There are plenty in today’s workforce. And how are they doing? According to business owners, the new recruits are cocky, won’t follow through and don’t want to pay their dues. Why should they? They’re super special after all.
But there is hope for the future. With any luck, today’s twenty and thirty somethings will produce children who realize that mom and dad are off their rockers. They’ll decide to find a good job, work hard, move up the ladder and save money for a rainy day. Sounds like something my parents would do.
Everything old is new again.