Columns for The Lufkin News

​It Started With Kindergarten​

Posted Oct 14, 2018 by Sidney C. Roberts, MD, FACR

It started with kindergarten graduation. However cute this photo op may be, it is symptomatic of a much larger problem in our society. We think – no, we demand – that our kids live in Lake Wobegon, the fictional town of Prairie Home Companion fame “where all the women are strong, all the men are good looking, and all the children are above average.” We refuse to admit that our children might be normal, so we turn every event into a hyped up ceremony.

I applaud the idea of giving our kids a healthy sense of identity, confidence, and purpose. But taken to extreme, all the pomp and circumstance paradoxically promotes selfishness and entitlement as opposed to a healthy sense of self in relation to others. We have created a self-centered ethos where everything is “all about me”, to be documented on Instagram, Facebook and Snapchat. This breeds a false self-confidence and self-identity apart from a true community.

We now have “promposals” where students elaborately stage and photograph asking a date to prom. To equate an invitation to a prom – already fraught with teenage angst and FOMO (fear of missing out) – with a wedding proposal is the height of high school self-promotion, if not self-deception.

Marriage proposals, too, are now destination events attended by families, videographers and drones – or even 100,000 of your closest football fans watching on the giant screen – turning a private, intimate declaration of love and commitment into an all-about-me reality TV event. Let’s not forget the expensive destination bachelor and bachelorette weekends and destination weddings that are increasingly leaving the traditional community behind. It is not a coincidence that we now have the term “bridezilla” to describe the selfish behavior of some brides. Consider the recent story of “Susan”, whose wedding was “ruined” because her invited guests wouldn’t write a check for $1,500 each so that she could have the Kardashian-for-a-day wedding of her dreams.

A new generation of kids, whose sex was announced by ever more elaborate gender reveal parties (including one in Arizona that caused a 47,000-acre wildfire), is being raised in a radically individualistic society, where one is encouraged to drink Diet Coke “Because I Can” and where we are urged to “Just Do You” when what advertisers really mean is, “Forget everyone else; you are the only one that matters.”

Fun fact: The number of emotional-support animals brought on airplanes increased by 74% from 2016 to 2017. I find it ironic that our Lake Wobegon above-average, perfect-at-everything-they-do kids grow up so insecure that they feel not only the need, but the entitlement, to take a live animal with them on a flight, or need a safe space because they can’t handle differences of opinion.

Our churches are not exempt from these worrisome trends. Do we only go to a church service to watch a performance and be entertained, and only if the performance is the music we like? Do we change churches like Sunday clothes? The church – the ekklesia, or assembly – is not about the individual any more than is society at large.

Any society is a group of people living and interacting with each other. It’s a give and take. Any community requires individuals to give up a part of themselves, not just with taxes (or tithes), or time, but also some of their preferences or needs or identity (i.e., their “self”-ish individuality) for the benefit and success of the whole.

Don’t get me wrong. I don’t long for a mythical 1950s time and place where WASP America demanded conformity to a non-existent ideal. I love the diversity in our communities, churches, and country. I celebrate the true individuality of people. But radical individualism destroys not only the community, but the individual soul as well.

No man is an island. John Donne (1572-1631), an English poet and cleric, penned that phrase almost 400 years ago. It is worth reading the entire poem:

     No man is an island,

     Entire of itself.

     Each is a piece of the continent,

     A part of the main.

     If a clod be washed away by the sea,

     Europe is the less.

     As well as if a promontory were.

     As well as if a manor of thine own

     Or of thine friend's were.

     Each man's death diminishes me,

     For I am involved in mankind.

     Therefore, send not to know

     For whom the bell tolls,

     It tolls for thee.

We are all part of mankind, the human race, and part of one another. When one hurts, we all hurt. When one dies, a little piece of each of us is gone.

As individuals, we aren’t all exceptional, and that’s ok. We are, however, all different, and that’s ok, too. But let’s not bow to the false god of everyone selfishly doing their own thing without regard for our fellow man. Living and working together with respect, cooperation, and a healthy self-sacrifice – putting others above self – we can be extraordinary. Now, that is something to teach in kindergarten.

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Sidney C. Roberts, MD, FACR

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