BY RJ GRUNEWALD
Only the Millenials could have invented the “selfie.” We’re self-obsessed, right? While the previous generation had Bill Gates and Warren Buffett—relatively nondescript fellows—we have Lady Gaga, and Justin Bieber. Nondescript? Not so much. Millenials are known for our technological savvy, sure…but we are more commonly known for our self-centeredness and sloth.
One author described my generation this way:
Today's under-35 young people are the real Me Generation, or, as I call them, Generation Me. Born after self-focus entered the cultural mainstream, this generation has never known a world that put duty before self. Linda's youngest child, Jessica, was born in 1985. When Jessica was a toddler, Whitney Houston's No. 1 hit song declared that "The Greatest Love of All" was loving yourself. Jessica's elementary school teachers believed that their most important job was helping Jessica feel good about herself. Jessica scribbled in a coloring book called We Are All Special, got a sticker on her worksheet just for filling it out, and did a sixth-grade project called "All About Me." When she wondered how to act on her first date, her mother told her, "Just be yourself." Eventually, Jessica got her lower lip pierced and obtained a large tattoo on her lower back because, she said, she wanted to express herself. She dreams of being a model or a singer. She does not expect to marry until she is in her late twenties, and neither she nor her older sisters have any children yet. "You have to love yourself before you can love someone else," she says. This is a generation unapologetically focused on the individual, a true Generation Me.
- Jean Twenge, Generation Me
Ouch. That stings a little bit, not least because it’s a pretty spot-on description of my childhood. If you are older than me, you’re probably nodding your head, and thinking that this explains so much.
Here is another interesting quote that I think can help further this conversation:
“The rock upon which most…marriage barges go to pieces is the latter-day cult of individualism; the worship of the brazen calf of the Self.”
It doesn’t take a fertile imagination to picture a generation of young people entering marriages, only to see those same marriages soon destroyed because the individuals were so self-centered that they couldn’t put aside their own interests for the sake of their relationship. After reading that quote from Generation Me, it seems obvious that this generation would produce crumbling marriages.
However, that last sentence was written in The Atlantic in 1907; more than 75 years before the first Millenial was born.
In 1976, New York Magazine described the current decade by calling it “a period that will come to be known as the Me Decade.” And in 1980, Newsweek’s cover featured several people around the brand new technological advancement of the camcorder. That generation could now capture birthday parties, recitals, weddings, Christmas gifts, and sporting events…a generation relentlessly documenting itself.
In 1990, Time said this about Generation X:
“They have trouble making decisions. They would rather hike in the Himalayas than climb a corporate ladder… They crave entertainment, but their attention span is as short as one zap of a TV dial… They postpone marriage because they dread divorce.”
So…perhaps Millenials aren’t alone. Maybe we are all the “Me Generation.” Perhaps selfishness runs much deeper than generational lines and actually infiltrates the human heart.
Martin Luther described this selfishness as the inward curve of the human heart, homo incurvatus in se in Latin. Luther taught that our core problem—our sinful nature—is that we are bent in on ourselves, that we are looking out for our own desires, our own interests, and our own feelings. This is why the Apostle Paul (born some 1,950 years before the first Millenial) describes his—and our—sinful nature by saying, “I know that there is nothing good in me, that is, in my flesh. For I want to do good but I do not” (Romans 7:18).
We certainly can describe Millenials as the “Me Generation”; that would be accurate. It is just as accurate, though, as a description of each and every generation that came before it.
The “Me Generation” is not a modern phenomenon; it began in the Garden of Eden. Adam and Eve, wanting to believe the serpent, said, “Not God. Me.” In every generation from the beginning of time, sin has caused the human heart to say, “Me, me, me.” Luther suggested that all of our disobedience is the fruit of this root sin. Our active sinful choices are symptoms of the deeper problem that is our depraved hearts.
Only one thing can change the me-centered heart: the radical intervention of Jesus Christ. He speaks the truth about who we really are. He shatters our delusions about how giving and focused on others we are. Having shattered us, though, he reveals to us himself, resurrects us and makes us new, giving us his heart—a heart of flesh in place of our hearts of stone.
It is only through this miraculous intercession of Christ that the “Me Generation” can look outside itself in love. As John so eloquently put it (1 John 4:19), we can only love because he first loved us.
RJ Grunewald is a Pastor at Faith in Troy, Michigan. He is a theology nerd who believes that theology isn’t just meant for the academics and dead guys but it is for everyday life. He is the author of The Art of Law & Gospel and Reading Romans with Luther. He’s also got a digital copy of The Art of Law and Gospel that you can download for free by subscribing to his emails. RJ has been married to his wife Jessica since 2007 and they have 3 kids, Elijah, Emaline, and Alice.