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Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Beyond the Self

 We live in a very selfish world. Not only do we see the daily effects of an ever-growing sense of entitlement but also the increasing need to focus on the self. For many people, life is becoming more about their own self-fulfillment and benefit than that of others. Independence is strongly encouraged: do what's right for you even if you have to go at it alone. 
 Studies have shown that today's generation is significantly more self-centered than the of previous ones. In 2006, college professor Jean Twenge wrote an astute book that examined this rapidly-moving trend. In Generation Me, Twenge writes,

"GenMe's focus on the needs of the individual is...a way of
moving through the world beholden to few social rules
and with the unshakable belief that you're important...
We simply take it for granted that we should all feel good
about ourselves, we are all special, and we all deserve
to follow our dreams."

Such thinking has led to a rise in self-esteem propaganda, aimed at teaching us that you are a unique entity and that you can be in control of your life as you please, with or without others''s your choice. You are the source of your own destiny, and you deserve to be respected! As a result, many people today are far more prone to throw off social rules and, instead, create their own; to focus less on tradition and more on creativity and self-expression; to want to interpret the world as they see it and not always as the way it really is. And, interestingly enough, Twenge notes these same self-aspiring and independent human beings are also among the most depressed that any generation has ever seen. Rising statistics indicate that young people today take more anti-depressants than ever before - and at younger and younger ages. Children as young as nine-years-old are markedly more anxious than even back in the 1950's. The research Twenge did on this proved to be quite shocking. In a word, GenMe seems to be very conflicted: confident, yet insecure; independent, but depressed; self-fulfilling, but still lonely. The odd thing about it is that most of us have experienced this dichotomy. Supposedly the ones to be the inheritors of the twenty-first century and the world's best hope of success, GenMe seems to be working hard yet often going nowhere. When the rate of crime seems to be climbing at an alarming pace, when the suicide rate is rapidly increasing as well, when kids are having more trouble staying in school, we should ask ourselves how well is this self-centered culture helping us? Could it be that we are not the answer to these problems - we must go beyond the self in order to find the completeness in life that we are seeking?
 For most of my life, I have traveled a different path than others. Many of my choices growing up put me against the popular trends of my peers. I didn't listen to the same music, watch the same movies, wear the same clothes, or even take the same educational path. Half the time I spent trying to understand my peers and figure out how to find something in common with them. As I grew older and became increasingly aware of the differences between us, I felt a growing urge to prove to them that I was as smart, capable, and successful as they were. I wanted approval...and I desperately sought it. I wanted to feel good about myself, and I thought their validation could bring what I was desiring. While I had friends, I also felt like I was continually falling short on the acceptance scale. At the time, I thought I was all alone in feeling this way, but I now know differently. Because now I see that every person faces this at some time in their life. We all want to be told that we're the star of the show. We want the pride of being the bed of the sorority, or student body president, or the CEO of the business we work for. Position makes us feel like we matter...everyone respects us. We like the attention we receive because of it and we seek it because we fear the rejection and sense of failure we feel when we aren't the center of people's attention. Jealousy can also be a motivator in this because we look with envy at others who have gained the level of praise and popularity that we are seeking and we wish we could have that, too. 
 Everyone wants to be liked. Nobody enjoys being told that their choices are useless, that their future won't get them to the top, that they can't have what it takes to be somebody in the eyes of the world. But at some point, each person must face the pain of this fact. I can vividly recall conversations I had where I came away feeling like all I said to the other person was deemed as insignificant. It did nothing to convince them that I had potential or would go anywhere in life. It hurt...deeply...that I could not make them believe that I was something valuable. Regardless of their responses, I can now see though that I was wrongfully out for justice and that my attitude reflected my frustrations to others. I have since repented of this. 
 We are all seeking validation in some way. And yet, the question must be asked: who validates you? Is it others? Is it yourself? Is it God? Where does lasting approval come from? And why do we find ourselves forever coming up empty? 

To be continued tomorrow...