They say that each generation has one or two – maybe three – television events which shape the personality and psyche of the entire generation. We remember the sights and sounds of that day, where we were and who we were with when we first saw this historic event on our television screens. Our reactions to these historic events have the power to shape and form an entire generation of people when they are young and most impressionable.
Many Baby Boomers will be able to remember where they were when Neil Armstrong and the Apollo 11 team touched down on the Moon. Americans reached beyond their wildest imaginations and accomplished a goal which seemed impossible. It was the American Dream at its finest. Despite the crushing blow of the JFK assassination (which Boomers will also remember), this is a generation which was inspired to achieve the impossible.
Generation X wasn’t so lucky. When the Challenger Shuttle exploded, the very thing which inspired the generation before them instead brought a wave of skepticism. The Bill Clinton trials taught Gen-X that they even needed to be skeptical of their highest elected leaders. This skepticism seemed justified – after all, they were the first generation who would often not do as well as their parents did. As America lost its power and prosperity, Gen-X was filled with an independent and skeptical outlook on the world.
Growing up in the 90’s, the American Millennials seemed to have it all. The economy improved with the housing market alongside it. Our blissful outlook on the world all came crashing down on 9/11. Ask any Millennial and they can tell you exactly where they were when the planes hit the Two Towers. I was walking into my 9th Grade History class when the second plane hit. I still remember staying in that room the rest of the day as we were put on lockdown, waiting for my mom to come pick me up, and going out to dinner that night when everything was a ghost town.
Most Millennials can still remember a time when “Terrorism” wasn’t a buzzword. We remember how everything changed after that day – airport security, and the government always being on high alert. We were raised in an environment that focused on defeating the evils of the world. It should be of no surprise to us that Millennials want world-changing purpose from their work. We want to make a difference so the world becomes a safer and more charitable place for everyone.
What will the historic event be that defines the next generation (Generation Z)? Of course, it is too soon to tell. However, in the aftermath of the events in Charlottesville this past weekend, I had a thought. Maybe there won’t be just one major event to define Gen-Z. Maybe it won’t even be two or three events. What if it’s going to be the constant, emotionally numbing sights and sounds of turning on the TV and seeing the racial and political violence between the citizens of our country? What if this generation of young people grows up with all of these injustices and terrible things just blurring together in their memories?
You might say well, how are today’s events different from the Civil Rights movement that the Boomers were introduced to? Wasn’t there even more violence during that era? And didn’t that result in positive changes for our country?
Well, yes. But here is the major difference: we taught Gen-Z that the Civil Rights movement fixed racism. The problem was solved.
But the problems weren’t solved, they were just pushed to the side and ignored.
I suspect that as a result, many young people are going to grow up wondering why the problems and violence in our country when it comes to race are still so severe. If we’ve already been here before, then is there really any hope?
My fear is that these events will shape this next generation in one of two harmful ways:
- Bitterness and Isolation. We tried to fix the problem and it didn’t work. Maybe things are just better if we remain separated. After all, we’re so different. Besides, people who aren’t like me don’t get me and there’s just too many problems if I try to get them to see my side. They’re too ignorant and they’ll never come around.
- Apathy. I’m tired of all the fighting. I’m just going to sit this conversation out from now on. I can’t even get on Facebook without seeing people scream at each other. What’s the point?
How do we raise our next generation to be neither bitter and isolated or apathetic to the needs and issues around them regarding race?
Well, we’ve tried education. Maybe we can just educate the racism out of them, they said. I was raised to be “color blind” toward race. All my life I was told I would be fair and equal if I said things like, “I don’t even see race, I love everybody!” It was only as an adult that I realized that’s actually just a deeper form of racism. How can ignoring the very thing that makes people unique be the right solution?
Clearly, education isn’t the problem.
Well, maybe we can legislate it away then. Let’s make discrimination in the work place illegal. Oh yeah, and you can’t refuse service anymore based on race. Legislation will make the problem go away!
How well did that work for us?
Neither education or legislation is the permanent solution. The reason for that is because they’re surface level. You can try behavior modification, but if you don’t get to the layer underneath our behaviors – our desires, our motivations – then it will never work. We need something that can go deeper.
We need to talk about solutions to our immediate problems, but we also need an answer for what really ails us. Deep down we all have a beauty disorder. We don’t understand what makes a person beautiful, nor what makes mankind as a whole beautiful. We look at ourselves and people who look like us in order to define beauty. We measure beauty in the arts by what we’re most familiar with – our own culture’s musicians and artists. We think ideas that come from people who think like us are the best, even though we’ve never even considered a different view point.
But what if all of this is wrong? What if beauty doesn’t come from our own little racial and cultural bubbles? What if true beauty has actually been stretched out across the tapestry of human souls through all cultural, racial and generational backgrounds? What if true beauty comes from the mixing, stretching and sharing of ourselves with people unlike us? What if our views on beauty have actually been a monstrous horror all along?
See, most of my life I’ve had it wrong. Beauty cannot be fully expressed by myself, nor can it be expressed by those who look, think and act like me.
We need a grander vision of what true beauty really is. When our imaginations, motivations and desires are captured by beauty – true beauty – then we will be able to change. Our hearts will overflow with new life. Bitterness, apathy and isolation will be replaced by the warm desire to share our very best with each other.
Maybe – just maybe – there is still time for Generation Z to become the most beautiful generation in American history.