A generation without mentors

"We were having a beer and he said, ‘Did you guys know, if I move a single finger, it will influence the entire universe?’ And he kept saying that kind of thing; the future is changing because he's wiggling a finger... What a croc, right? And I told him, ‘Okay, spare us...’ "

I was waiting for the traffic signal to turn green. A kid, in his teens, with a haircut like Smiley - tapered and short on the sides (I found out it's called tapered cut, but it seems to me like a sort of hipster Nazi - apologies for the joining of terms) - was explaining to a girl how ridiculous the guy who believes in the butterfly effect is.

He had a scornful laugh, the girl laughed too, more restrained, and I felt like cutting in and saying, "What's his name, that guy? It’s him you should make friends with..."

The light turned green and I didn't end up saying anything. They would have pegged me for an old fart, anyway.

*

I try not to fall into the trap of the adult who only sees the flaws in younger people. I try to understand what differentiates adolescents and young people up to 20 years of age. I'm trying to formulate a public necessity.

I'm talking about a generation whose models are few, foreign and very lenient. In regards to these models, neither we, nor their parents know anything, and high school or college teachers aren't all that interested. These models are young Brits or Americans who speak their language; famous vloggers with millions of subscribers, whom people follow on YouTube and who tackle themes that are very - euphemistically speaking - mundane.

It would be interesting to carry out a sociological study of students, and more importantly on the teachers in Romanian schools; ask them if they’ve heard of Bethany Mota, Zoella, Joe Sugg, Ansel Elgort or Tyler Blackburn.

That’s where we would see the sheer dimension of the mental disconnect in Romanian education: the students find hardly anything worthwhile during class (because they are making comparisons to the showmanship and diversity found on the web), while the teachers’ prodding ("You should read Creangă and Coșbuc, ignore all this pop culture stuff...") have absolutely zero chance of success.

The solution can only be a combination of tried and tested classical education and using present references, at least methodologically.

Now, there aren't many adults around who can speak the language of today's generation. Not only do we not know their references, but we urge them to refer to ideals of times they consider obsolete.

There are three major patterns I’ve observed among these adolescents.

1. They're more pragmatic than us, but it's a basic pragmatism. They were told from early on - and we're to blame for it - that they have to "reach" for "targets".

(Also) because of this, they don't resonate at all with poetry. If a whole generation no longer reads poetry, because it seems boring or because it asks itself, "what point is there to formulate complicated expressions when you can be direct", then there is a possible national infirmity afoot.

2. Their humor is radically different from ours. This comes from voiceover translations of TV shows, where they're told what is funny and what isn't, quite stupidly, through the medium of "laugh tracks". The humor of high schoolers and undergraduates today is more frequently gag humor, as opposed to the kind that implies multiple semantics.

3. Like every generation, they are looking for meaning. But because we've over-protected them (I'm referring to children in urban centers) and, at the same time, we left them to their own devices, to isolate themselves in smartphones and tablets, this gave birth, just like in Western culture, to a self-mutilation syndrome.

Because they are bored with reality, not cared for, and disappointed by those who are supposed to be their mentors, many turn to cutting themselves, to inflict pain upon their own bodies, in order to feel something. It's a growing trend and it's easily confirmed: ask your kids if they have colleagues like that in school.

*

Without poetry, with their horizontal humor, and in a constant search for extreme sensations (including pornography, since it's a click away), our adolescents are desperate, without realizing, for public leaders.

They don't have anybody to learn from and no values to guide them. They don't know who our TV "stars" are and they care about them just as much as they care about the dust that gathers between their smartphones and their cases.

Paradoxically, that might be good news.

There is such a thirst for public figures, for charisma and mentorship, that overthrowing the current establishment is as clear as an ultra-HD feed.

Either we give them mentors, which means a process of building a new public elite, or they will eventually know how to proceed, directly and un-metaphorically, to reach that objective.

There is no middle ground. It's touch and go.

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