By Michael Strelcheck
A lot of people today are concerned about where our country is going and that the younger generations aren’t interested in the community values of the past. And if you look at what’s currently popular with teens and twenty-somethings, being the Millennials 1989-2000, and the yet to be identified newest generation referred to among others as; Generation Z; Gen i; 2K’s; Swipe Generation; Gen Wii; Conflict Generation; Tweennial’s; Screener’s; Gen Tech; Net Gen and Gen Next, to name just a few, like we find in social networking sites where “selfie” pictures abound, there could be reason to worry. Much of today’s social media seems to celebrate the individual “me” rather than the collective “us,” providing users a platform for self-promotion. It’s a given that many of the younger generation are captivated with “electronic relating” and are less interested in face to face relationships, and one has to wonder if that trend will lead our society to an emotional disconnect – where people will only relate intellectually? For sure, it’s a lot safer emotionally to relate through a phone text or an e-mail. Why? When a person relates over a device they don’t have to deal with another’s emotional reaction directly. Even when using a cell phone, a person has the potential to control the conversation (by dropping the call or saying they “have to go”) if it gets dicey. As strange as this may sound, while dining out I’ve personally witnessed a young couple sitting at a nearby table texting each other rather than talking.
Fortunately, not everyone in the younger generations wants to relate behind a device. Recently I came across a nice little story reported by the Bristol Herald Courier of Tennessee about a young woman who, in order to celebrate her 21st birthday, decided to do 21 acts of small kindness for strangers. The woman, Alexa Sexton, shared that she used to be spoiled but was baptized last year and began to think more about others. The paper reported that among some of her acts she brought doughnuts to firefighters near her subdivision, food to people in hospital waiting rooms and gave her mother a gift.
Although many of Alexa’s “acts of kindness” could be considered trivial (and in some communities – just neighborly) and in a world that’s suffering mightily, they may appear like a drop in the bucket. In fact, if one was to adopt a cynical attitude about the situation, it could be easy to say that she was receiving too much credit or attention for her efforts. But I believe embracing that perspective would be missing a more important point. Alexa displays a willingness to interact in a personal way, risking her feelings in order to show that she cares! Stories like this give me hope that the younger generations won’t lose touch due to their current fascination with techno-relating.
One of the remarkable things a free society such as ours offers is the right to pursue what makes up happy. With each generation we find the nature of that pursuit changing. When I was young my parents complained that Rock an’ Roll music was destroying the minds of my generation and that our country would soon fall into a “death spiral” because of it. Yet the very same musicians who were then supposedly warping the minds of the young (like the Rolling Stones or Sir Paul McCartney of the Beatles) are today heralded as global ambassadors – uniting people everywhere with the very same music. It seems each generation needs time to find itself and as it matures its sense of community and caring comes through. Perhaps in the near future science will figure out how to transmit feelings via electronic devices and our society won’t lose its ability to express its greatest asset – its feelings of caring.
Another encouraging story that demonstrates individuals expressing their caring through “acts of kindness” comes from The Arizona Republic. It reported on a situation where a cut in educational funding has threatened the job of an elementary school’s librarian. Librarian Lara Morris, a young woman who was hired as media specialist at Estrella Mountain Elementary School near Phoenix three years ago, was receiving a $20,000 annual salary. Morris, who likes to dress up as Star Wars Princess Leia to spark an interest for reading in her students, said that when she was hired it was her dream job. “If you look at the dollar amount, that’s not why I took this job,” Morris said. “It wasn’t about the money. Now it’s all about the money.” Although some can look at Morris and her teaching approach as “flakey” or non-professional, the community finds value in her caring efforts and ability to communicate to children. Consequently, the local community is taking an extraordinary step to save the librarian’s job through a crowdsourcing campaign. A Go Fund Me campaign has been set up online by teachers and parents to raise the needed $20,000 for her salary. Typically, school leaders are loathe to use donated money to pay for jobs because the funding is often unsustainable year to year. “But right now, we’re in a perilous situation, and we have to go one year at a time,” said Michele Bove, one of the teachers who started the campaign and who donated $100. So far, $7,115 has been raised. Hilary Bilbrey said losing Morris would be a blow. “Lara makes it absolutely enchanting,” said Bilbrey, who also donated $100. “Without her, I’m convinced that the kids’ hearts and minds would not be nourished the way they are now.”
In this situation we see individuals taking risks to express how they feel through multiple “acts of kindness.” Plus we see the power of the internet being used in a way that demonstrates connectedness within a community. Perhaps there’s hope that technology and “humanity” can merge in a meaningful way.