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Generation 'Me'

Laker Notes

ZHANGIf I had to give my generation a nickname, I think I’d call us the “Me” generation. (I’m sure somebody’s already offered this clever tagline, but just bear with me for now.)

The world revolves around each of us because, obviously, each of us just happens to be the most important human to have ever lived. Just take a look at all of our gorgeous selfies, at the sheer number of favorites that our subtweets garner, at the jaw-dropping amounts of attention our Facebook statuses attract.

This praise of the individual conveniently ignores the fact that the universe can’t have multiple centers, but I suppose we can continue shunning logic a little longer if only for the sake of this discussion. Anyway, this praise began when my generation was just a teeming mass of adorable elementary-schoolers.

Our teachers peppered our papers with “You’re the best!” and “You’re No. 1!” stickers, even on the smallest of occasions. Our sports coaches doled out participation trophies to every player on the team at our post-season parties. Our parents cooed and discussed our futures as Picassos and Van Goghs, sans their self-deprecating tendencies, when we showed them our scribbled crayon drawings.

Don’t get me wrong: There is absolutely nothing wrong with encouraging the development of youth, and I know and recognize and greatly appreciate all that the adults in my life have done for me. I wouldn’t be the person I am today if all the grown-ups around me didn’t push me forward and guide me with kind words and showers of affection; I’d probably be rocking back and forth in a corner somewhere instead of writing this column.

The problem begins, however, when this praise gets out of hand. We’ve been taught for so long that we’re the best, the smartest and the brightest, and at some point we start refusing to believe that we’re anything less than that. I for one used to play rec soccer and was quite convinced that I was an excellent defender. My coaches all told me so, and the glittery trophies stacked along the mantle of my living room seemed to affirm that opinion.

Only years later did I finally concede that OK, maybe I didn’t actually start running to retrieve the soccer ball until it was within a two-meter radius of where I was standing. I never got much better at soccer because I thought I was incredibly talented at it. If and when people told me otherwise, I glared at them or ignored them or did a strange combination of both of those things.

And I think I can extrapolate my example to encompass most, if not all, of my peers.

Especially in today’s society, there are so many different ways by which we can satisfy our hypercompetitive natures and receive awards, from business simulations to mock trials to science bowls to writing contests. In all honesty, I could probably win some kind of award just by typing out a comprehensive list of these opportunities. If we lose or receive anything less than first place, we tend to complain and blame and point fingers without taking any time to examine ourselves.

This isn’t a rare occurrence. Within the past month, I’ve had friends blame adjudicators of music competitions and judges of debate tournaments for what they view as an oversight of their talent. I have no doubt that my friends do indeed have plenty of aptitude in their areas of expertise, but I think that perhaps their time would be better spent if they looked for ways to improve instead of scrunching their noses at the people who didn’t confirm their prior assumptions of their ability.

Of course I’m being a little hypocritical here, because I sometimes do the same thing — placing all the fault on someone else’s shoulders makes me less responsible for my own failure and gives me a tiny bit more self-esteem.

The interesting irony of this entire dilemma, then, is this: Most of the adults in our lives have but one hope for us, which is that our futures will shine with a kind of light that will overshadow whatever pain and suffering and fear we have faced and will face. Yet despite their well-meaning intentions, they’ve cultured us into a passive acceptance of our own “excellence.” Each of us is the best, and that’s that.

Maybe we should change something, and maybe we shouldn’t. I won’t pretend to know the best solution to what seems to be our eternal struggle with assuming that the world revolves around us.

But what I do know is this: The higher the opinion we have of ourselves, the further we fall and the worse we feel when something comes along to destroy that illusion. I believe firmly in the merits of self-confidence, but I also believe firmly in the detriments of arrogance.

Thomas Edison once said something that’s still applicable now, and I’m sure that the quote is a familiar one: “Genius is 1 percent inspiration and 99 percent perspiration.” Regardless of whatever we believe about our capability, we need to translate our assumptions into actions or we’ll keep turning our eyes away from the truth that, well, maybe we aren’t as good as we think we are.

Perhaps we really haven’t come very far from the days when we believed that the sun circled around the Earth. In fact, I’d argue that to some extent, we’ve narrowed the perceived center of the universe even more: to ourselves. I’d also say, though, that maybe all we really need to do is get our heads out of the sand and realize that the world doesn’t, surprisingly enough, spin at our discretion.

Lake Oswego High School senior Ada Zhang is a regular columnist for the Review. She can be reached at education@lakeoswegoreview.com.


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