#MondayBlues: Gen Y – Selfish narcissists or selfless revolutionaries? It depends what you read

I would like to share something interesting, which may be relevant to Malaysians’ Gen Y. Please read the following:

There’s nothing like a bit of lazy stereotyping to drive a newspaper headline. Last week we read in The Age that Generation Y was a bunch of selfish narcissists.

Yet the week before, Time magazine’s cover story told us that it was Gen Y selflessly facing down the tanks and using Twitter to bring a new dawn to North Africa and the Middle East.

These stories paint two very different pictures of Gen Y (also know as the ”Faceboook”, ”Net” or ”Millennial” Generation). Does it make any sense to group the young people facing down dictators with Australian young people? Is Gen Y a useful term at all?

The claim that this generation is increasingly narcissistic came from the work of Jean Twenge, professor of psychology at San Diego State University, on her recent visit to Melbourne. Twenge uses psychological data, mostly collected from American college students, to claim that today’s young are increasingly selfish. She attributes the rise of what she calls ”Generation Me” to the sinister influence of permissive parenting, celebrity culture and the internet.

The Life Patterns Project, which followed several thousand members of two generations of Australians through their 20s and 30s, suggests an alternative reason why today’s young people might appear narcissistic. Over the past quarter of a century, changes such as the need for more education, greater uncertainty of employment and the decreasing relevance of traditional patterns of living have created a context in which young people think of their lives as a personal project.

The study’s participants grew up being told by parents, teachers, career counsellors and many others that they must make decisions about their future and, more importantly, take responsibility for their choices, even if the circumstances and resources that make this possible are missing. For the Gen Y group in this Australian study, going on to further education straight after school was the experience of the majority, but within that group young people from low socio-economic backgrounds were about four times more likely to not finish their courses than their better-off peers. In large part, this was due to the challenge of combining work and study.

Most of the participants worked while they were studying, but those with wealthier parents were able to take time off to focus on their study, or to simply take a break, when they needed. The new opportunities available to this generation are not equally available to all.

In some ways young people do have it easy, but they must build a life without some of the security and predictability that was available to their parents. Making decisions about how to navigate post-secondary education, juggle part-time work and build bridges into an eventual full-time job that is hopefully secure, while trying to find time for friends and family, requires significant life-management skills.

The task of holding these various areas of life together may sometimes lead to young people appearing self-centred. However, to focus on narcissism risks missing the broader realities of young people’s lives today.

Although young Australians may seem on the surface to be the luckiest generation ever, they have patterns of mental health that suggest they might not have it so good after all, with a quarter of young Australians experiencing some form of mental health problem.

The idea of neatly defined generations has come to shape how we think about young people – as well as the not so young. This is both a good and a bad thing. Talking about generations is useful, for example, when it is used to recognise that the conditions that shape the thinking and actions of young people today, and will shape their adulthood and old age, are not the same as those that shaped the baby boomers. It is  counterproductive, however, to make sweeping claims, as Professor Twenge does, that feed the appetite for negative assessments of ”today’s generation”.

Young people in Australia may be focused on the task of navigating complex pathways, but this in itself does not make them a narcissistic generation.

The evidence before us is that Generation Y, if it can be said to exist, is shaped by diverse conditions across different parts of the world and, as you would expect, is responding to these conditions in equally diverse ways.

The profound events in the Middle East are being shaped by a generation of young people who want change, even at the cost of their lives.

Young people in Australia are also engaging with the circumstances of their times. The young people of Egypt, Australia and, no doubt, America, from where Twenge draws her data, are building their lives in radically different circumstances to those of their parents.

Yet while it is true to say that young people as a whole are living in changing times, this does not mean that it is the same world for all those classed as Gen Y, even within a single country such as Australia.

Dr Dan Woodman is a research fellow in the school of sociology at the Australian National University. Professor Johanna Wyn is director of the Youth Research Centre at The University of Melbourne.

Yes, the article was written few years ago and the main subject was on Aussies.

However, the points that delivered in the said article seems so relevant to us here in Malaysia – what you read shapes your mind.

Yes, we want change, we want for betterment.. but HOW?

Will street demonstration solve the issue? Is the street demonstrators are better than in many ways? How can we guarantee betterment if result is expected even before the seed is being planted and taken care accordingly?

These are the questions that we and the Gen Ys need to think. And more importantly, those having the influence on Gen Y also should be more responsible in giving hope, inspiration and direction to younger generation.

When I say those having influence, I meant for BN and PR politically, and elders and parents socially.

We have seen what has happened to those Middle East countries since the above article is written. Yes, “change” was the aim, but considering the method and patience (and passion) for change was driven by hate and anger, those countries are still in chaos.

So my dear readers, if we wish for a change, we must do it in the best possible manner and in best possible practice. Drive the change with positivity, not anger and hatred.

The first step toward change is awareness. The second step is acceptance.

 ~Nathaniel Branden



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