The problem with our special little, millennial snowflakes

Some day, every impetuous, idealistic, rebellious young person will grow old.

When he does, inevitably there will come a moment when he will sit in his rocking chair, look around, and start complaining about “kids these days,” just as his parents’ and grandparents’ generations had once complained about his.

It’s simply how life works.

When you are young, you are full of life, energy and optimism. You act out and try to craft your own independent identity. You crave new things. You think you know everything because your mind is sharper and faster and more plugged into the world around you than the older people around you.

Once you grow old, you realize what a feckless, vapid person you were in your youth. You didn’t know everything, it turns out. Your parents actually knew something after all. Experiencing life opens your eyes. You mature and finally understand the world around you.

You also look at the next generation of youth and consider them foolish.

This phenomenon has been happening for as long as there have been human beings, but has been most obviously pronounced since the advent of mass media.

I mention this because there is something very disturbing going on with the millennial generation, and talking about it is difficult because the natural assumption is that it is just another round of old people complaining about “those damn kids.”

And while that is certainly part of it, in truth the problems I am talking about are perhaps a more damning indictment of the Baby Boomers and Gen-Xers, who not only raised the millennials, but created the world around them. In other words, it is everyone’s fault.

We see what is going wrong most recently on the campuses of both the University of Missouri and Yale.

In Missouri, what began as a protest against the perceived outbursts of racism on campus, quickly devolved into a mess of institutional threats to the First Amendment.

At a protest Monday, student activists surrounded a photographer for the student newspaper who was trying to document the event — at a public university — and essentially threatened him, ordering him to leave.

Student protesters raise their arms to block media from taking photos during a protest at the University of Missouri on Monday. Michael Cali | San Diego Union-Tribune via TNS

Student protesters raise their arms to block media from taking photos during a protest at the University of Missouri on Monday. Michael Cali | San Diego Union-Tribune via TNS

Worse, though, was Melissa Click, a professor of mass media who was among the protesters. She is heard on a video saying, “Who wants to help me get this reporter out of here? I need some muscle over here.”

That’s right, a professor of mass media threatening physical force to eject a journalist from covering a protest at a public university.

Then there’s Yale. After students were warned not to wear “culturally insensitive” costumes for Halloween this year, an absolutely insane set of events began.

Defending the very American notion of free expression and free speech, an email sent by a Yale lecturer asked, “Is there no room anymore for a child to be a little bit obnoxious … a little bit inappropriate or provocative or, yes, offensive?”

Cue “student activists” organizing in protest. But they didn’t organize to register a contrary opinion. They organized to shut down that opinion, by force if necessary.

What matters is the “safe space” away from anything that might threaten the fragile emotional health of the special snowflake. Controversy is not tolerated. Offense is around every corner.

We’ve seen this repeated time and time again at campuses across the country. We see it every commencement season, when invitations for speakers are protested, frequently forcing speakers to withdraw, because the invitee may be controversial or have a provocative opinion.

The “safe space” away from criticism, offense or disagreement is all that matters.

This is a direct result of how entire generations of people are now being raised. Disturbed by a rise in bullying, depression, drug use, body issues and explosive violence in young people, we as a society made the decision long ago to focus on building up self-esteem.

Our noble goal, to take the sting out of childhood so that kids wouldn’t grow up to feel like outsiders whom nobody loved, resulted in the much talked about rise in participation trophies, the death of competitive play in early youth sports, the removal of games like dodgeball and tag from recess, and the constant drumbeat that “everybody is special.”

But what we have created is a society of intelligent but fragile people.

Self-esteem without merit can poison the soul. Failure is important, because it not only teaches us more than winning, but it provides motivation to grow and learn. Resolving conflict between people who are fighting, rather than running away from that conflict and appealing to an authority figure, is an important part of a healthy society.

We don’t teach these things anymore, and what we are seeing today on so many college campuses is a frightening prospect for the future of this republic.

Matthew Gagnon

About Matthew Gagnon

Matthew Gagnon, of Yarmouth, is the Chief Executive Officer of the Maine Heritage Policy Center, a free market policy think tank based in Portland. Prior to Maine Heritage, he served as a senior strategist for the Republican Governors Association in Washington, D.C. Originally from Hampden, he has been involved with Maine politics for more than a decade.