We’ve grown up.
We no longer answer to grandma’s prudish sensibilities. We have more money, a better grasp of our physical universe, and much, much more freedom than any generation before us.
We’re more mature than we used to be, like the way a teenager is more mature than a six year old.
That’s a good thing. If we can grow out of it.
In the meantime, here’s a short list of big things that betray our country’s teenage tendencies.
Smarter Than We’ve Ever Been, and More Arrogant
Our knowledge of the universe stretches far beyond our ancestors’ – and is growing at breakneck speed.
But every time we make a huge discovery, we simultaneously uncover ten times as many unknowns, stacked upon the vast universe of unknowns that already exist. We should be humbled by this, but we’re not. And the stuff we don’t know? Psssht. We’ll soon figure it all out.
Because we focus on our accomplishments instead of being awed by what we still don’t know, we’ve lost a few things that are fundamental to grown-up thinking.
True, our ancestors were like toddlers in their understanding of the universe – we are so much smarter than they were. But they had something we didn’t have – a sense of mystery, an appreciation of the unknown.
That sense of mystery gave their universe power, beauty, depth. And because we’re not impressed by the billions of unknowns that lay ahead, mystery is all but gone, which should bother us, because mystery is a huge part of the second thing our ancestors had more of than we do.
Don’t Tell Me What to Do
When my parents were kids, they listened to their parents, respected them, and did what they were told – not all the time maybe, but more than we did when we were kids. In their day, acts of rebellion were quickly quashed, and weren’t seen as culturally appropriate.
Sadly, their culture changed just as quick as kids turn into mouthy teens. My parents, like so many from their generation, were left scratching their heads and wondering…
“What the hell do we do here?”
My teen years were filled with images and sound bytes teaching us to look at our parents like they were idiots. We didn’t need their authority, or wisdom. We didn’t talk to them about life, ask for feedback, etc.
Every rule we broke was a badge of honor.
Americans used to look up to the people that went before, eager to learn from them, avoid their mistakes, etc. Now we look at authority suspiciously, partly because we’ve seen it abused so many times, but mostly because we’re growing up, decidedly in that phase where we feel like we know everything we need to know.
As a result, we’ve come to believe that the individual is its own highest authority. It’s not politically correct to tell someone else what to do – it’s their job to figure things out.
So we frequently talk like teenagers when our personal authority is challenged:
- I don’t need any help.
- I got this.
- Your rules are for you, not for me.
- Mind your own business.
Feelings – the Highest Authority
In this authority gap, our feelings have showed up to fill the void, and are calling the shots like never before.
If someone makes us mad, we break the relationship. We don’t stop to ask questions about our responsibility in the matter, that’s too hard. It’s far more simple and pleasurable to tell the other person to go to hell.
The divorce rate in the U.S. is close to 50%, mainly because it’s painful to work things out – and who cares? The divorce rate for second marriages is almost 80% for the same reason.
We’re drinking more, drugging more, eating more, we watch 35 hours of TV per week, and are more physically unhealthy than other countries like us.
And, like any good teenager, we’re limiting our options for the future. So many things that feel good in the short run have long term consequences. But there’s no one to help us.
We’ve kicked them all off the boat.
Our lawsuits tax the economy to the tune of billions of dollars per year. Road-rage related deaths are on the rise. Honk at someone and they might follow you home.
Mentalhealth.org says we’re angrier than we’ve ever been. In their survey, most agreed that our anger issues are getting out of control, but participants were unwilling to take any personal responsibility for it.
We’re angry with the Government, angry about the economy, immigration, who gets to marry who, etc. We’ve become a mine-field of touchy subjects and hair-trigger reactions.
Social media has been blamed on some level, but it’s simply showing what’s underneath. I can insult you all I want with little to no repercussions? I’m in.
We Put a Teenager in the White House
“Punch that guy in face.”
“Grab that woman by the _____.”
“I don’t have time for political correctness.”
“My country first.”
“Part of the beauty of me is that I am very rich.”
“Any negative polls are fake news.”
“My fingers are long and beautiful, as, it has been well documented, are various other parts of my body.”
“You can never be too greedy.”
“Why can’t we use nuclear weapons?”
“I could stand in the middle of 5th Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn’t lose voters.”
I know that many of my subscribers are Trump supporters – I’m honored to have you as part of this community. And I’m not making a statement about his fitness for office. But when I see what he does, and hear what he says, I think “teenager.”
The majority of the rest of the world feels the same way.
I think we elected him because he embodies us. He’s our mascot. The only thing that makes sense to teenagers is another teenager.
We’ll Grow Out of It… ?
Years ago I worked as a youth minister in a small country church. Most of the kids we served were well-behaved, but there were a few “hell raisers” – kids who were too overwhelmed with the idea of having life on their own terms to listen to anyone else.
We took the kids to an area of Mexico in need of some help. The trip didn’t go well. There were episodes of gambling, where several of the “good” kids lost their spending money. A couple of kids snuck off to purchase tequila with their winnings.
I admit that I’ve enjoyed watching them grow up, face the realities of life, and get a good ass kicking, like I did in my post-teen, pre-adult years. The teen years and their painful lessons are something we all have to plod through on our way to adulthood.
Culturally speaking, we’re in our teens, and hopefully we’ll grow out of it. But rest assured, we’ll screw some stuff up before we do. The lack of personal authority and predominance of feelings over just about everything else will entice us to use everything at our disposal to limit as many future options as we can.
That’s what teenagers do best.
Till then, as individuals, we’ll need to be careful not to embrace, support, exacerbate, or otherwise give-in to these aspects of our culture. They’re real, but they’re not healthy. We’ll need to let things like humility, patience, forgiveness, contentment, and other opposites-of-adolescence off their chains if we want our nation to be great.