We are hearing a lot of negative press about the “snowflake generation” these days and I must confess that I have been guilty of joining in the mockery. It is hard to take seriously the growing movement for “safe spaces” on college campuses, “cry rooms” for those who have been traumatized by election results, “micro-aggression” awareness, “trigger warnings,” and the growing trend to silence any voice that isn’t saying what some college faculty member, president, or commencement audience wants so desperately to hear.
While I find the combination of all these trends and issues to be a sad commentary about the direction of our culture and of the freedom of expression, religion, speech, and assembly guaranteed by the first Amendment to our Constitution, I also find it a little too easy to join the chorus in damning the younger generation for their gross lack of wisdom and civic virtue.
I say that for two reasons …
Faith in Youth Restored
Last week I served on my congressman’s “Service Academy Selection Board.” This is a board that meets once a year to interview and evaluate candidates who apply for admittance into each of the U. S. Service Academies. Those who aspire to attend one of these schools must complete an extensive application for a nomination from either their U. S. Congressman or Senators, or through the office of the President or Vice President of the United States. Obtaining one of these nominations is only the first requirement to receive an “appointment” (offer of admission) to the academy itself. Each academy then has its own separate application. None of them are the same either. In short, the application process for these schools is a massive ordeal in itself. I am convinced that the academies have made it that way on purpose as a way of weeding out those who aren’t serious enough to make the effort to complete it. But, even for those who do, the acceptance rate is extremely low and the competition is fierce.
As I reviewed their application packets in the weeks leading up to their interviews, it became obvious that this process attracted a certain kind of student. Then, during their interviews last Thursday, I was confronted with young men and women who were a different breed than those you will find acting out any of the above-named nonsense on college campuses across the country. There was no “cookie-cutter” profile — all of them had different leadership, athletic, extracurricular, and academic profiles — but the thing they all had in common was a deadly serious approach to living out their lives. They were grateful for the opportunities for success this nation offered them even as they acknowledged its imperfections. They were wired to excel at whatever they aspired to do. They were motivated to serve. They were eager to lead.
It would have never occurred to any of them to reduce themselves to fragile “snowflake” status.
And please don’t misunderstand me. I am not saying that the call to military service somehow elevates these young people above those who are called to other professions. Far be it for me to ever claim such a thing. That’s not the point. I am simply saying that this experience reminded me that what we see in the news is a warped and jaded version of reality. If it doesn’t promise to anger someone, it doesn’t make headlines. We are conditioned by the news to find the worst in people — especially in those with whom we disagree. But reality offers a different story. While it’s easy and popular to lament the fact that “it’s all going down the tubes,” that is a misguided fear. Every generation has its leaders. They will rise up when we need them in every walk of life. We owe them our optimism and encouragement.
Check The Bathroom Mirror
Maybe the parallel realization I came to after this experience is obvious to others, but I am embarrassed to admit it took me some time to get it through my own head.
Snowflakes don’t appear spontaneously. There are laws of nature and circumstances that must converge to form a snowflake. Yes, they are unique, but the ingredients and conditions you need to produce them are pretty standard. Once you have the right environment, getting snowflakes is quite predictable. To the extent those in my generation are content to badmouth the current blizzard of snowflakes we see swirling around us, we must be willing to consider the environment in which that snow is falling. If we want to place some blame, the first place we need to look is in the bathroom mirror.
We are the ones who handed out trophies to everyone, no matter how they performed. We are the ones who argued with little Johnny’s teacher about his grade in 5th grade English. We are the ones who caved to the Hollywood culture about the acceptability of our kids’ sources of entertainment. We were the ones who were more intent on being their buddies than being their parents. We were the ones who feared allowing them to feel even the slightest level of discomfort and thought giving them every material thing they desired was a measure of our success as a parent.
When the world elevated self-esteem to the level of divinity, we went along, forgetting that every human being’s eternal value in the eyes of God has to be balanced by the reality that we are all rebels against His perfect Good. We traded an accurate picture of the reality of human nature for an inflated measure of self-worth … and we got some snowflakes that are sure to melt when things get warm.
So, yes, the whole “precious snowflake” thing is concerning for the future health of our nation. But let’s remember that there are many more impressive, capable young men and women than there are snowflakes. It has always been that way. And let’s neither forget how we got here, nor allow the heat of an unhealthy cynicism to melt away the reason for our hope.