We are doing a series now on the fantastic book called Generation Me: Why Today’s Young Americans Are More Confident, Assertive, Entitled–and More Miserable Than Ever Before
by Jean Twenge.
We continue with her chp that sketches how cultural shifts indicate that iGens don’t care about social approval. She deals with manners and politeness. “Most of us,” Twenge (an iGener herself), “were never taught the rules of etiquette.” (This reminds me of a really nice book I read called Say Please, Say Thank You
.) Twice I used this book with college first year students and, while they thought some of it was a bit below their dignity, much of it led to fruitful conversation.
Do you think there has been a recent decline in basic morals? basic human decencies?
What’s involved: basic consideration of others; respect for social customs. It can be seen when from the 1990s to 2000s those who paid the suggested fee at a Catholic church for a votive candle decreased from 92% to 28%. School cheating. In 1992 61% said they cheated; in 2002, 74% said they cheated. In 1969 only 34% said they cheated. Not everyone cheats; the key point is that there is a trend at work to ignore basic decencies.
Twenge sees the Boomer “question authority” to have gone too far with iGens — demonstrably so in numbers and observations. She speaks here about parental authority, observes demonstrable changes in its developing lack, and concludes with this: “I wonder what will happen when this generation has their own children. Will they continue the move toward lesser parental authority, or insist that they retain the authority they have grown accustomed to?” (31) Think about this question of hers: the sharing of authority is a form of authority granted to a younger person that will either be shared or insisted upon….
Marriage … she explores the change of all previous customs. She sees changes in mixed marriages (which she applauds), and colors at weddings, and who stands with whom … she’s not too big on this stuff but observes that weddings have become opportunities for self-expression.
Religion too. Back to Melissa: “Everybody has their own idea of God and what God is … You have your own personal beliefs of how you feel about it and what’s acceptable for you and what’s right for you personally” (34). One young Catholic woman stopped believing because “feeling guilty made me unhappy” (35). She picks on fundamentalists for having too personal of a view of faith.
And trust of others… In 1976 46% of high schoolers said they could trust most people; by 1997 that number was at 26%. Older folks still trust. Her conclusion: “GenMe trusts no one … Trusting no one and relying on yourself is a self-fulfilling prophecy in an individualistic world where the prevailing sentiment is ‘Do unto others before they do it to you'” (36).
And making everything public, like the recent 25 things about me on Facebook (which she doesn’t mention), but which is found for her in chat rooms where people say things that are sometimes called TMI (too much information). And being far too direct with others you may not know or may know … and so much cussing and so much public loudness on cell phones.
The big issue here: the scale of the need for social approval, in itself neither good nor bad, is on a decline. 2001 folks scored at 38th percentile of folks in 1958.
Her conclusion: “Generation Me believes, with a conviction that approaches boredom because it is so undisputed, that the individual comes first” (43).