Might TV Contribute to Millennials’ Emotional Fragility?

Image resultDavid Brooks has noted that Millennials, while more accomplished, are more “emotionally fragile” than previous generations. He is backed up by this article which includes reports from Psychology Today, that “the average high school kid today has the same level of anxiety as the average psychiatric patient in the early 1950s.”

This fits with my experience. People my age have battled spiraling depression and anxiety since early adolescence or before. I do agree with Brooks that it’s in large part because many of us lack deep convictions and a narrative about what is really meaningful.

In his book, “The Road to Character,” he identifies inside everyone an “Adam I” and an “Adam II.” Adam I is the external person, the face we show to the world, the bearer of “resume virtues,” as he puts it. Adam II is the internal person, the inner compass of wisdom, maturity and kindness or of fragility, shallowness and self-righteousness. Adam II is bearer of the “eulogy virtues.” Brooks says and I agree that the great struggle of being a good person is to bring these two aspects of ourselves together.

I would like to introduce a contributing factor that Brooks does not explore: the saturation of TV, movies and visual media in our lives. In my (limited) experience, development of the Adam II, the inner person, relies on refining our emotional processing of external realities. Yet, in our culture, we almost lack entirely a vocabulary to express this inner thought process and dialogue. Our language is much better suited to the roles of Adam I – naming nouns, like rocks and buildings, and discussing clear, observable markers of achievement such as job titles and salaries. If our words have trouble explaining Adam II, our visual mediums struggle even more and this contributes to the difficulty we have in developing Adam II.

In mediums such as TV shows and films where characters hash out their differences or conquer adventures in visual theatrics, there is almost no method for depicting the inner-transformations that go on in order to develop that wisdom and maturity that characterizes Adam II. Even writers, artists of the silent medium, today criticize older models of novel-writing that spent paragraphs and paragraphs detailing a character’s motivation. In today’s sitcoms or romantic comedies, a character experiencing emotional distress almost always runs away and pouts–be it a child nervous before a performance or a woman scorned. Then, the father, teacher or boyfriend character seeks out the distressed child or girlfriend, listens patiently, gets passed the walls and offers reassurance. This is the model of any TeenDisney or Jude Apatow movie.

From an artistic standpoint, it makes sense. When two characters interact, there is something to display on the screen. When they speak to one another, their thoughts and emotions can be revealed. Dialogue is the Holy Grail of good story-telling.

But when this example permeates our lives, we encounter a problem: it is not realistic. These portrayals set-up the expectation that there will always be a kind mentor to rescue us from our emotional distress or at least help us to process it. But in real life, the mature person must often process her own emotions rather than expect others to do it for her. (It’s not that we can never ask for help, but that sometimes we can do it ourselves and we grow when we try).

When our real-life father, teacher and boyfriend (or opposite sex) figures do not always deliver the expected emotional rescue, we are often left distraught, without options–hence the spiral of depression and anxiety. The Washington Post describes the story of Amy, a 30-year-old in therapy who suffered break-downs in college “unable to do laundry and often stayed up until 2 a.m. trying to complete homework because she didn’t know how to manage her time without her parents’ keeping track of her schedule.” We have few models for healthy self-reliance and care in our cultural models of TV and film.  It’s not as simple as pointing the finger at mom and dad, though. The issue is more pervasive. If TV and movies are our cultural models, and I think they are, there are no cultural models even to guide parents for effective development of Adam II, of healthy maturation or emotional processing.  Continue reading

Article Round Up I

Well, Happy Thanksgiving! And welcome to a round of articles that I have found thoughtful and worthwhile over the past few months. It’s really things that I want to save for potential future use or citation.  (Note–unlike re-posts of my freelance work, these are not by me).

On Voting’s Significance (I know the time frame is sort of done on this one)

“I don’t plan to tell you how to vote, but I do want to establish a few basic principles:

  1. No well-formed Catholic should feel comfortable with Trump or Clinton;
  2. Thus, voters face a difficult decision this fall;
  3. The Church gives some guidance on this, but this guidance is limited;
  4. You, as a potential voter, have the final decision to make as to who to vote and who to support;  and
  5. Your salvation could well hang in the balance.”

http://shamelesspopery.com/worth-more-than-your-vote/

Why We Can’t Just Get Along— a disagreement, often unseen, on first principles, renders modern/faithful disagreement unsolvable

In Paradise Lost,

“Satan and Adam begin alike from a point of ignorance—they know nothing prior to (the precise word is “before”) the perspective they currently occupy; and the direction each then takes from this acknowledged limitation follows with equal logic or illogic. Adam reasons, since I don’t remember how I got here, I must have been made by someone. Satan reasons, since I don’t know how I got here, I must have made myself, or as we might say today, I must have just emerged from the primeval slime.

In neither case does the conclusion follow necessarily from the observed fact of imperfect knowledge. In both cases something is missing, a first premise, and in both cases reasoning can’t get started until a first premise is put in place. What’s more, since the first premise is what is missing, it cannot be derived from anything in the visible scene; it is what must be imported—on no evidentiary basis whatsoever—so that the visible scene, the things of this world, can acquire the meaning and significance they will now have. There is no opposition here between knowledge by reason and knowledge by faith because Satan and Adam are committed to both simultaneously. Each performs an act of faith—the one in God and the other in materialism—and then each begins to reason in ways dictated by the content of his faith.”

https://www.firstthings.com/article/1996/02/001-why-we-cant-all-just-get-along?utm_source=First+Things+Subscribers&utm_campaign=639cc6d14a-Sunday_Spotlight_Two_Essays_on_Gifts&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_28bf775c26-639cc6d14a-180480817

David Brooks on Modern Toughness

“In short, emotional fragility is not only caused by overprotective parenting. It’s also caused by anything that makes it harder for people to find their telos.” (a Greek word meaning “end ” or  “purpose” in moral philosophy).

 

The End of Identity Liberalism

A good diagnosis I think of what went wrong for progressives in the election:

“In recent years, American liberalism has slipped into a type of moral panic about racial, gender and sexual identity that distorted liberalism’s message and prevented it from becoming a unifying force capable of governing.”

So, that’s it, readers. Enjoy and as always, feel free to send any thoughts!

 

3 Modes of Impartiality/Personal Engagement

Reading and reflecting recently on how people talk to one another, here are some recent observations of mine on how people share and address the impartiality/personal aspect of conversation. Most of David Brooks’ people of character, from his new book The Road to Character, likely fall into the “Quiet” category of mine.

The academic gold-standard is impartiality– to appear impersonal and objective, presenting only the facts. But this is not the mode that most of us interact in, which is perfectly reasonable.

Most of us are affected by and drawn to personal stories, things that resonate with our own experiences. In books, these are novels and memoirs.

I’ve noticed that there are (seem to be) three ways most of us deal with impartiality/personal when speaking, and I think most of us shift between each one though one may tend to dominate.

  1. The Know it All – Impartial as attempt to impress, appear objective and knowledgeable
    1. This is so evident in young people, especially ambitious young people (I can get pretty embarrassed when I think about how often I’ve here) who will happily prattle on about all the things he or she knows or has done or plans to accomplish.
    2. Other times, this surfaces through excessive criticism.
    3. The goal, often unconscious, is to appear learned and accomplished from an objective point of view while hiding the inner self.
    4. Ironically, it stems from a place of insecurity, of wanting very badly to be liked and appear well before others.  Older and mature people see through it right away, but are often very charitable and encouraging.
    5. That being said, the insights and criticisms can be very accurate, though not always.
    6. The Know-It-All is less a fault than a stepping stone in a path of growth.
  2. The Personal – When we becoming willing to show our selves
    1. At some point, most of us become willing to share our true selves, our actual opinions and experience without overt regard to its appearance to others.
    2. Here or elsewhere, we realize that even objective information is filtered through our own experience, so even when we try to be impersonal, it is often more revealing and personal than we realize.
    3. This is how we share with those close to us. Sometimes, public figures will share in this way. But most often, actors and politicians will keep it to the Know-it-All or be a totally the closed-book.
    4. Sometimes, this personal share loses an appropriateness filter and we can ramble on and on about ourselves and our experiences without enough regard to the actual subject of the conversation
    5. This is a normal mode, at least sometimes, in most people. It can be both deeply illuminating or shallow and myopic.
  3. The Quiet – Speaks when necessary
    1. The quiet person has learned that wrongly-placed or careless speech can be incredibly damaging.
    2. This person weighs the entire situation: the participants, their temperaments, the social setting, before adding his or her voice
    3. This quiet one is no longer concerned with the approval of others and uses his or her speech to clarify necessities, put others at ease, or add something edifying without regard for getting credit for it
    4. The quiet person may actually speak quite a lot if it is called for in the situation, but it will always be in balance.

Continue reading

David Brooks on Wisdom

In a recent column, David Brooks gently criticizes a new school’s approach to education that aims to respond to the out-of-date nature of many classrooms, but in the process throws out most of the good that schools do.

I love his summary of the learning process: Life skills are important and relating goes hand in hand with knowledge, but fact acquisition matters too:

If we want to produce wise people, what are the stages that produce it? First, there is basic factual acquisition. You have to know what a neutron or a gene is, that the Civil War came before the Progressive Era. Research shows that students with a concrete level of core knowledge are better at remembering advanced facts and concepts as they go along.

Second, there is pattern formation, linking facts together in meaningful ways. This can be done by a good lecturer, through class discussion, through unconscious processing or by going over and over a challenging text until it clicks in your head.

Third, there is mental reformation. At some point while studying a field, the student realizes she has learned a new language and way of seeing — how to think like a mathematician or a poet or a physicist.

At this point information has become knowledge. It is alive. It can be manipulated and rearranged. At this point a student has the mental content and architecture to innovate, to come up with new theses, challenge others’ theses and be challenged in turn.

Finally after living with this sort of knowledge for years, exposing it to the rigors of reality, wisdom dawns. Wisdom is a hard-earned intuitive awareness of how things will flow. Wisdom is playful. The wise person loves to share, and cajole and guide and wonder at what she doesn’t know.

This is so true. From my own limited experience, memorizing facts–if they really sink in–is actually hugely helpful and provides the legos with which to build a wall of understanding. Without the basics building block, there is nothing to build; there is no water to turn the water wheels of the mind.

Schools are certainly not perfect, and we shouldn’t think we can’t improve them. Rote learning has its drawbacks, as does sitting in a seat all day. But basic fact acquisition will always be a key first step to deep learning and critical thinking. No reform effort should ever forget that (including Common Core!)