While teaching at Hamline Law School (Go Pipers!) last week one of my students brought me an article from the Star Tribune asking the question, “what happened to compromise?” Using the backdrop of the work stoppage of the Minnesota state government, the NFL lockout, the NBA lockout, and the debt ceiling talks in DC, the article posits that “the narcissism epidemic” of those under 40 is one of the major causes of the problem. Some choice quotes:
Anyone under 40 has been brought up on the idea that you should never compromise, not in your work life, not in your personal life. - Jean Twenge, author of “The Narcissism Epidemic.”
One cause is the loss of humility, and the accompanying belief that my views must always be correct. This is the perspective that creates ideologues who can’t be wrong. . . . Focus on self interest leads naturally to greed. – Reverend Gary Reiserson, Greater Minneapolis Council of Churches.
Too many people are putting the “me” in mediation. – Lizz Winstead, activist/humorist
Blaming the younger generations for societal problems is nothing new. In the mid-80s when I was in college my generation was being bashed for not being activists like college students in the 60s. We were in the Reagan era, and, gosh darn it, the young people weren’t doing anything about it. Before my generation was known as the Gen-X ers, we were known as the “baby busters” because of the low numbers of us compared to the baby boomers. Oh, and we also weren’t drafted into an unpopular war overseas. Instead we drama surrounding whether the president could categorize ketchup as a vegetable in school lunches. Let’s give these folks a break – my guess is that there are few in the under-40 crowd taking part in the big scale negotiations highlighted in the article, and if they are, they are in support roles. And guess what, two of those conflicts look to be sorting themselves out (NFL and Minnesota gov’t), and I’ll bet you as much money as you have that the debt ceiling talks work themselves out soon.
As I think of this generation, maybe they do spend too much time in individualistic activities – suring the net, playing computer games, doing the facebook and the google (as we old-timers call it), and whatever else. Among academics, we complain about students surfing the net and emailing during class, but who doesn’t remember playing “gunner bingo,” seeing classmates work on a crossword, or passing notes back and forth during class. (Of course, I never participated in such activities, oh nooo.) While we can and should be concerned about some of the students in the class not paying attention, the current crop is just doing the same thing using a different method. For those who are interested in understanding this generation, I suggest 2 books authored by the aforementioned Twenge, “The Narcissism Epidemic” and “Generation Me.” I have to admit that I haven’t read them yet, but they are both on my reading list. According to one reviewer, Generation Me is more of a discussion of the research surrounding the twenty-somethings and how they were brought up (this generation received the message that feeling good about yourself is more important than good performace), and The Narcissism Epidemic treats the problem like a disease that can be cured (because its long term consequences are destructive to society). I don’t think it’s that dire, but certainly it sounds like a good way to sell books. Happy reading.