On May 18, I began a 7-part series, offering some thougts about how to teach the Catholic faith to “Generation Me” (those born in the 70s through the 90s; Generation Me, Jean Twenge, M.D.). Click here to read the intro and part 1.
Today, we address another unique characteristic of Generation Me: excessive individualism.
Individualism – Since the time they were very young, Gen Me-ers have been bombarded with messages intended to boost self-esteem. It is imperative that they feel good about themselves. This focus on self-esteem, while well-intentioned, has resulted in a dramatic increase in individualism and narcissism. Gen Me celebrates the individual with an unshakable belief that they are important. The message is: believe in yourself, be yourself, express yourself because you are special.
How Catechists Should Respond – Our self-esteem comes, not from a notion of self-importance, but from the knowledge that we are loved by God even though we are not worthy. In other words, our self-esteem is not a focus on the self as an individual but on the self in relationship with God. In Catholic tradition, self-esteem takes a back seat to humility. It is in the realization of our limitations – our lowliness – that we become open to the grace of God which truly fulfills us. Our finest example of this humility, of course, is Mary, who, in finding out that she is to be the mother of the Lord, directed praise, not to herself but to God, calling herself the handmaid of the Lord. Mary does not magnify her own greatness, but the greatness of God that is being manifested in her life.
To put it bluntly, Catholic spirituality teaches us the following message: it’s not about you. This is not to put down the individual but to put the individual into context: as a member of the community. To be Catholic is to be a member of the Body of Christ. We are not just a loosely connected fellowship of like-minded people. We are organically linked to one another in Christ.
Bottom Line: we need to help Gen Me see the value in humility and to understand that humility is not the act of beating our selves up but of acknowledging that we are in the presence of someone greater than our selves. By inviting Gen Me to consider the virtue of humility, we can help them to recognize and embrace their true limitations while at the same time recognizing the grace of God that comes to us in our weakness. By inviting Gen Me to practice humility, we can help them to recognize their need for community and thus overcome the narcissism and individualism that comes from excessive self-esteem.