Is ‘Generation Z’s fragility destroying their ability to be discipled? | Short Thoughts

Introducing Short Thoughts Often I’ll have a short thought, more half of a thought really. I will begin to write it down and then the thought will wander off into the long grass and I’ll decide to finish working it out later. Now I have a few dozen half-finished blog posts in my folder and this site sits dormant. So, I’ve decided to exchange fantastic for frequent and to hit publish on shorter thoughts that are not polished or even properly thought through. Enjoy!, but don’t hold me to it, I’m just thinking out loud. You can read some more here

Something has to go…

It seems that in following Jesus something within you, that was alive and very much a part of you has to die in order to find the truer life that Jesus is offering. This is gestured towards in our Baptisms, spoken of explicitly in verses like “Those that give up their life, find it” (Matthew 10:39) and more figuratively in “unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground..” (John 12:24).

This part of us that has to ‘die’ has been thought of as our ego-structure from a psychological perspective, our sin nature from certain strands of new testament interpretation, our false self within psychoanalysis. Which ever perspective you come from discipleship involves certain things dying for other things to be raised up by the power of God.

But, as the cheesy sermon joke goes, “the problem with living sacrifices, is that they keep crawling off the altar”. Every generation it seems finds new ways to resist death, loss and grief. After all, it is the ground zero of our greatest fears, and so we obssess over it, ignore it, avoid it, all the while generally believing somewhere deeper than our cognition that death, quite literally, has the last word.

More than just a playground

In Jonathan Haidt’s book “The Coddling of the American mind – How Good Intentions and Bad Ideas Are Setting Up a Generation for Failure“, he analyses the state of current University students in the US and the unfolding patters that developed their way of being.

Generation Z is the generation born from 1995 onwards, they are experiencing more anxiety and depression than any before. He identifyies as the sources of this reality, a move in the mid-90’s where parents, through fear of abuduction and a range of other dangers that provoked nation-wide paranoia, no longer allowed children to play outside with friends unsupervised. He remarks;

“parenting strategies and laws that make it harder for kids to play on their own pose a serious threat to liberal societies by flipping our default setting from “figure out how to solve this conflict on your own” to “invoke force and/ or third parties whenever conflict arises.”

“The Coddling of the American mind – How Good Intentions and Bad Ideas Are Setting Up a Generation for Failure

What we are left with, Haidt is arguing, is an emerging generation of adults who, instead of being trained to work towards justice though conflict solving skills learnt in the playground, they now simply claim victimhood to adult-authority-figures even as they themselves become adults.

Is suffering necessary for maturity?

This lack of ability to become resilient and to take personal responsibilty as they navigate conflict and offense is now a serious problem for contexts which are seeking to form young people in the ways of Jesus.

In Jesus’ own life, he grows up and indeed functions in his ministry with singnificant opposition and a plurality of voices and perspectives claiming they are right. Increasingly, the millenial and Gen-Z generations, maybe especially within the church, are doing the opposite.

In the hyper-fragility which emerges due to a lack of sensed safety the generational group that Haidt researches seeks out tribal echo-chambers which surround themselves with enough similar voices that they are innoculated from dealing with opposing perspectives.

Haidt claims the cure for our current fragility is the removal, at least temporarily, of the relative comfort and protection that large swathes of western society have recently enjoyed;

“From time to time in the years to come, I hope you will be treated unfairly, so that you will come to know the value of justice. I hope that you will suffer betrayal because that will teach you the importance of loyalty. Sorry to say, but I hope you will be lonely from time to time so that you don’t take friends for granted. I wish you bad luck, again, from time to time so that you will be conscious of the role of chance in life and understand that your success is not completely deserved and that the failure of others is not completely deserved either. And when you lose, as you will from time to time, I hope every now and then, your opponent will gloat over your failure. It is a way for you to understand the importance of sportsmanship. I hope you’ll be ignored so you know the importance of listening to others, and I hope you will have just enough pain to learn compassion. Whether I wish these things or not, they’re going to happen. And whether you benefit from them or not will depend upon your ability to see the message in your misfortunes.”

“The Coddling of the American mind – How Good Intentions and Bad Ideas Are Setting Up a Generation for Failure

Some untruths we need to unlearn..

Haidt and his co-writer claim that there are three untruths that have moved from being laughably wrong to widely accepted within a short amount of time;

  1. What doesn’t kill you makes you weaker.
  2. Always trust your feelings.
  3. Life is a battle between good people and evil people.

It seems that in light of this, central to discipling a generation who have been formed this way is to;

  1. To become aware of God at work by developing a perspective of sanctification and godly refinement taking place exactly in the places and times which are most uncomfortable and even painful.
  2. To validate the reality of the experience of feelings, and yet recognise that much of the task of self-governance is to referee your feelings in such a way as they are ordered in service to loving God, and others.
  3. To recognise that the line between good and evil runs through every heart, that their are tree limbs in our eyes, that none of us can cast the first stone. To recognise that humility, or recognising our limitedness is the way in which we affirm that God is God and we are not.

As groups that have had to endure generations of oppression are often markers of, suffering can be a context within which we develop character that relative comfort does not create. Similarly, the Apostle Paul once wrote;

“we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance character, and character produces hope.”

Your thoughts?

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