Recently I had the pleasure of reading Generation Me: Why Today’s Young Americans Are More Confident, Assertive, Entitled – and More Miserable Than Ever Before (Jean M Twenge, M.D., Free Press, 2006). In her book, Dr. Twenge, herself a member of “Generation Me” (aka, Millennials, Gen Y), those born in the 70s through the 90s, uses findings from a large intergenerational research study (1.3 million respondents over six decades) to reveal how profoundly different today’s young adults are.
Dr. Twenge comments on seven specific unique characteristics of Generation Me (Gen Me) which I have summarized in my own words below. Following each is my own commentary on what this means for us as catechists who are seeking to proclaim the Gospel to a new generation. (Over the next 7 days or so, I’ll post one characteristic per day).
- The Decline of Social Rules – Rather than social rules, behavior for Gen Me is driven by individual needs. The rallying cry is “Just do it” and “don’t care what others think.” Gen Me-ers are non-conformists and being different is seen as a virtue. A result of all of this is a decline in manners and a willingness to ignore social taboos.
How Catechists Should Respond: God’s very essence is selfless love. God gave us his only Son. Jesus gave us his life. The Holy Spirit gives us his constant guidance and presence. God loves us with an enduring selfless love. We need to proclaim this selfless love to Gen Me and work with them to see that the only appropriate response to God’s selfless love is our own selfless love for God and for others. Social rules are not simply a way of behaving appropriately in order to conform but are ways we express our selfless love and respect for others as a response to God’s selfless love for us and in recognition of being created in the image and likeness of God.
The people of Israel were jubilant when God gave them the Law on Mount Sinai because they saw it as a sign of how much God loved them and wanted to care for them. We need to proclaim to Gen Me that the Commandments are a gift from God, to protect us from ourselves and from one another when selfishness prevails.
We need to proclaim to Gen Me that we are not called to conformity for the sake of conformity but, rather, are called to conform to Christ who is the perfect revelation of God. By conforming to Christ, we find our true selves and most clearly reflect the image of God.
Bottom line: we need to help Gen Me see that rules do not bind and restrict us, but rather allow us to truly be free. Here’s a metaphor: Let’s say I want to be free to enjoy a good game of golf. However, I am trapped (enslaved) by my inability to swing the club properly. If I get coaching from a golf pro, he or she will teach me the rules of a good golf swing. If I follow these rules, I will be free to truly enjoy the game of golf. In the same way, social rules (and the Commandments in general) free us from our inability to fully engage with and enjoy our neighbors.