Sunday, February 14, 2016

Hey Millennials -- and myself for that matter -- don't be the selfie generation

That's me, the guy with glasses on the right, taking a selfie at a roadside food stand in Bauchi, Nigeria. 
Earlier this week I had the honor and privilege of speaking to about 50 students from Longwood University and Hampden-Sydney College at a Baptist Collegiate Ministries gathering in Farmville, Va. We studied through a passage of 2 Chronicles 20 in which King Jehoshaphat calls for a nationwide time of prayer and fasting when a group of nations gathers to take out the Hebrews. I spoke on several aspects of the text we can apply to our lives and looked at how King Jehoshaphat led his nation at a time of crisis.

One of the things we talked about in regard to leadership is humility. I listened to a podcast last year in which the interview subject was a decorated Navy Seal, a mountain of a man of great courage, strength and abilities who I concluded could kill with his bare hands or at great distance with a sniper's rifle. Either way it would not end well for his foe. During the interview the host asked him an interesting question about the defining quality of a leader. The Navy Seal answered, after a period of thought, with one word: "Humility." It's a low view of one's own importance, or humbleness. Do you see that in any of our leaders? Let alone in the generation of Millennials.

It is a trait that, I fear, has been lost in the morass of American self-expression and self-exaltation. Face it, we're a nation of narcissists, especially in the younger generation of the Millennials. Although us older folks are not exempt; just watch Donald Trump, the chief narcissist of narcissists.

It's no secret either, our obsession with self. The whole world knows America is the "Land of the Free, Home of the Narcissists." Here's what the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology had to say (Link: We be narcissists): "Americans and non-Americans alike perceive other Americans as highly narcissistic. This finding does not simply reflect perceptions of higher levels of agentic traits but instead reflects the belief that the typical American is grandiose, callous, and self-centered. Although an inflated view of narcissism of a typical member of one's culture is shared across a diverse set of regions and cultures, the effects are generally smaller in other regions of the world."

New York Times Op-Ed Writer Arthur C. Brooks, in a piece headlined, "Narcissism Is Increasing. So You're Not Special" (Link: Narcissism on steroids), described the rise of narcissism and how social media serves as an accelerant. I wholeheartedly agree.

Somehow us children of the '70s and '80s have produced a generation of children, the Millennials, that seems to communicate solely by the selfie. The entire world is viewed through the lens of their selfie that they post ad nauseum on Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, Twitter, Kik and whatever other medium they are using. It's almost as if nothing exists beyond the borders of themselves.

So who's to blame? Parents. Our generation has told these kids over and over again how great they are at everything, given them trophies they didn't earn just for being a part of a team -- even if all they did was pick flowers on the field the whole time -- celebrated every inconsequential feat (Since when did going from 5th grade to 6th grade become such a big deal that it basically calls for a graduation ceremony?) and given them drugs for "ADHD" and "ADD" and whole host of other "diseases" and "disorders" instead of being parents and dealing with behaviors with love and discipline. (Which sends the kids a message there's a drug to cure everything, real or imagined. How on earth for thousands of years -- even as recently as my generation -- did kids thrive and survive without medication for ADD and ADHD and everything else?)

And I'm not immune. I may not post many selfies, but I sure see how many likes I get on Instagram photos or stuff I post elsewhere on social media. It's probably time for a social media fast ...

The world doesn't revolve around self and it's a frightening place when it does. Imagine if social media existed at the time of King Jehoshaphat. Would he have taken a selfie and posted on Instagram or Facebook or Snapchat that it might well be the last selfie anyone will be blessed to see because he's likely going to get slaughtered by the Ammonites, Moabites and their henchmen?

A world that exalts "self" is a world that will devour itself. It goes against the very nature of Christianity, of following Jesus who came to serve and not be served. Who had compassion and abundant love for all. Who died that all may live. That world of love and compassion doesn't exist in narcissism. Here's what I told the young men and women when I spoke to them a few days ago when I talked to them about being leaders and being followers of Jesus. I said, "Don't be the selfie generation. Be the selfless generation."

I hope we all take it to heart.

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