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A Few Thoughts on “Generation Snowflake”

Are younger generations actually different from the past? Does “generation snowflake” isolate itself from criticism? How are we to respond to criticism and confronting others?
| Feb 21, 2019 | 26 comments |

I’m taking a break from the long-running series Travis Chapman and I are doing on the Speculative Fiction Writers Guide to War. It’s interesting to note though that he and I both work with the military on a continuing basis, including military members trained for combat, though neither of us work directly with the infantry troops most people usually think of when the subject of war comes up.

It’s my interactions with military members that in fact inspires this week’s post. Nothing I have to say here relates to fiction at all, or is speculative–other than me speculating on human nature. All of what follows below is based on my personal thoughts and observations, especially observations I’ve made in the military.

You see, military members on average are younger than the populace at large. I’m getting to be quite old for the service–and I think I observe differences between how the people I work with now act versus those I worked with when I first enlisted in the Army (which was, by the way, 1989).

I think I need to say up front that I see two general tendencies on how to see the generations younger than my own. The first tendency, coming from people who deeply believe in social progress, sees younger people as more open-minded, more tolerant, as making steady social progress over the past, as “woke,” or in short, as morally better than the past. (Notleia, who regularly comments on Speculative Faith posts, probably is a fair representation of this group.)

The second general tendency is to see that society is going downhill. To see the current generation as full of vices that the past didn’t suffer from. According to the people who hold this view, younger generations are more obsessed with their own pleasure in this view, tolerant only with those who agree with them, too thin-skinned, too “snowflake.” It’s usually older men who are the most open at expressing this point of view, guys like Mike Duran, also a regular contributor to Speculative Faith. (Notleia might be eager to add older white men here, but I think anybody who believes that hasn’t had enough conversations with older Black and Hispanic and other ethnicity men.)

My very use of the term “generation snowflake” implies I’m with Mike and the other older guys who we might fairly call “crusty,” who gripe about the youth. But I want to say up front, “No, not really.” I in fact increasingly see a sort of Law of Conservation of Evil in play in society–like how energy in a closed system neither increases or decreases but simply changes form, it seems to me evil in societies actually has a tendency to neither increase nor decrease, but simply to change form. (Though I would also say our society is not really a closed system and it is possible to add evil to the overall mix, even though it’s not easy…but that observation moves away from my point here…)

I explain this to say that I’m not with either general tendency on how to see youth. I’m not predisposed to see people younger than me (Millennials plus Generation Y people or whatever you wish to call them) in a negative light–nor in a positive one. My first thought is to notice how they are different from me, without assuming such differences are good or bad.

Differences in the military as I see it between my generation and the past are pretty striking. In the old days, military culture embraced a lot of consumption of alcohol. As someone who out of personal conviction does not drink alcohol at all, it used to be rather difficult to avoid military social gatherings without drinking. Oh, you could avoid drinking, but some people would always treat an abstainer with contempt. That’s not really an issue now.

Old-school military culture also engaged in quite a lot of cussing. I think military culture cusses somewhat less now–but I’d say the choice of curse words have changed. “G-d d-mn” and “J-sus” as curse words used to be extremely common. Now the cuss word of choice stems from all the multitude of variants of the F word. Note this change has accompanied a military that increasingly less religious (as judged by how few people attend chapel services now) and more marked by sexual liaisons between military members (yeah, that didn’t happen much in the old, mostly male, overtly hetero military of the past). Which is rather ironic. The past military, which believed in God more, profaned his name more, whereas the present military, which believes in sex more, uses a word referencing sex as their go-to profane word.

One thing though that I especially notice is that military culture in the United States very much believed in overt confrontation. It was common to have a sergeant yell at a soldier in front of everybody–and this still happens, but far less. Sure, this kind of open confrontation usually went from senior members downhill to juniors, but it was also considered normal for peers to take peers aside and give direct advice about what you should and should not do. Even subordinates could and did directly confront superiors under certain controlled situations.

I’m finding–and this is what really inspires this post–that people younger than me in the military reflect the society as a whole in that they are much less likely to confront someone. Which at first may seem like a more pleasant environment to work it–a whole lot less yelling is going on, that’s for certain. But my “Law of Conservation of Evil” is at play–people are not necessarily nicer or kinder or actually like other people more. They just deal with disagreement or problems differently.

So people today are more likely to punish someone who is perceived to have done wrong by denying a person access to a service or by refusing to speak to a person than by a face-to-face confrontation. And people are more likely to talk about someone rather than to someone.

I can’t help but think social media affects this kind of reaction. Having a problem with someone online? Just block or unfriend. Or maintain as a friend, but “unfollow” so someone you don’t actually tell is not really a friend of yours is someone you never want to hear from. These tools make it easy to isolate yourself from social criticism if you choose to use them. And to surround yourself with a bubble of people who agree with you–and it’s this tendency to isolate self from criticism that attracts my use of the term “generation snowflake.” People can certain seem too sensitive to criticism from my point of view. Yet please understand the whole context of what I’m saying–I do not believe generations younger than mine are inherently worse people than my generation. Even if they are in some ways more sensitive.

On the other hand, speaking of sensitivity, I should note that the current generation can at times be hyper-aggressive under specific circumstances. Instead of yelling in public where a person might be criticized for behavior, it’s possible to adopt a pseudonym like “Sandy Balz” or something, where it’s possible to attack, attack, attack, without anyone knowing who is doing it. The Internet troll is the flip side of the technological liberty expressed in a person who isolates himself or herself from everyone who disagrees with him or her.

People directly confront less, yet still deal with people they don’t like. How? Usually by means of exclusion of some kind, often permanent exclusion. Such a system encourages being unforgiving, encourages refusing to see others as being capable of change, and even goes in the direction of shutting out nuance of meaning, since social exclusion can and often does take place before you even know what other people really mean by what they’re saying.

Note I’m not saying it’s always better to yell at people. No, that culture was toxic in many ways. But current culture is also toxic, just in different ways. The way I’ve phrased this brings to mind the commonly used modern term “toxic masculinity.” The thing is, I’m not disagreeing that many aspects of masculinity have been toxic–yet by attacking these old attitudes, what are we (as an overall society) replacing these values of the past with? Looks to me like a lot of it is non-masculine toxicity.

By the way, I’m glad to have a military that is more accepting of what we might consider a female point of view–yet that doesn’t in and of itself make the military more effective or morally better. Not automatically. Yes, sexual assault and harassment is much more frowned on, yet “hooking up,” which includes an inherent devaluing of commitment and truthfulness, is on the rise. Evil in a society changes forms, so it’s awfully hard to get rid of, even when people are trying to enact positive change. (It seems to literally take a miracle of God for someone to actually put aside personal evil…)

On the single issue of confronting others, does the Bible and Christian tradition offer any guidelines? Yes, it does. With emphasis on how to treat other believers (but applicable elsewhere), we are to look at individuals as individuals and give a person a chance at reconciliation according to Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 18:15-17. If the person refuses, then you take a second person. Then if the person refuses again, you bring in a group to help. And only if a person refuses to deal with an issue three times do you adopt social exclusion. (Note I would say Christ’s command is to be a general rule and needs to be applied with wisdom, meaning sometime a private confrontation is a bad idea–but only on occasion, only rarely is that true.)

Let’s observe that yelling at someone in front of everyone, like the old-school military did, was not Christ’s way. But neither is the new-school means of social punishment by exclusion without confrontation Christ’s way.

“Narrow is the way that leads to life and there are few who find it,” in Matthew 7 expresses more in my mind than just a relative few finding salvation through Christ, though that is true. It also means the world picks the broad way that leads to destruction–the world does everything wrong in God’s eyes. And the world didn’t just start doing that recently–it’s always been true and still is, even though in new and different ways.

Yet Christ calls on us to walk a different path. He meant us to stand up against the evils of the past–and he also calls on so-called “generation snowflake” to stand against the evils of the present. We are not promised that everyone will agree with us, or that life will become pleasant and easy if we chose to do what is right no matter what. Yet we are still called to a higher moral calling, whatever the society around us is doing.

In that way, nothing has changed at all.

Travis Perry is a hard-core Bible user, history, science, and foreign language geek, hard science fiction and epic fantasy fan, publishes multiple genres of speculative fiction at Bear Publications, is an Army Reserve officer with five combat zone deployments. He also once cosplayed as dark matter.

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Brennan S. McPherson
Member

I appreciate this post, Travis. I agree that evil just changes form. I’m going to rant now (just know I’m not ranting against you). I’m done listening to complaints about younger generations until older men take responsibility for their lack of leadership and presence in their children’s lives. Scripture says that men as the head of the family bear the responsibility for their children’s mistakes, in the same way that Christ bore the responsibility for our mistakes (that’s what it means to be the head of the family, not that men hold power). “The greatest among you shall be your servant.” Older Christian men complaining about younger generations are standing on quicksand. What do you think has influenced the sense of social isolation that plagues the younger generations and leads to much higher than normal depression and suicide rates? Fatherlessness, technological change, and older men overly focused on work and dry morality instead of on discipleship and self-sacrificial service and gentle kindness. Complaining does nothing. Standing up, taking responsibility, and changing our lives to do something about it does much. Men who weren’t emotionally present with their children have no right to complain about their child being a “prodigal.” It’s my job to initiate reconciliation in my family. It’s my job to be the first to bend my knees in prayer and humility. It’s my job to serve my family and make them feel emotionally and physically supported. It’s my job to admit fault, even for things I’m not guilty of–my kid’s actions, for example. My wife would probably say she’s responsible for the same things (because she’s amazing). But I don’t have to worry about that. I just worry about whether or not I’m being obedient to what God clearly called all men to do. It’s our fault children are poured into the foster system and the adoption system at alarming rates. It’s our fault there’s so much abortion – not the law’s. I’m sad to say that I see older Christian men act like snowflakes more than the younger generation they claim acts that way–and the older men have had a lot more years to work it out. “I’m especially moral, but no one is good in this rotten younger generation.”

……I think I hear the pitchforks rattling outside my door. Time to go read books to my daughter.

notleia
Guest
notleia

To boil it down: Is passive-aggression better than active-aggression? ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

(Small quibble: the generation after Milliennials is Gen Z, not Y. I myself am a late Millennial, while my youngest sister squeaks into Gen Z by most standards.)

Autumn Grayson
Guest

I wish people would learn to use discretion, rather than acting like one way (active vs passive) is the appropriate response to all situations.

Ironically, a lot of the people that criticize ‘Millenials’ might actually be Millenials themselves, while the generation they are trying to criticize may actually be Generation Z.

Travis Chapman
Member

I always appreciate having to look up the current social binning guidance when Generations come up. My sister (1994) is usually quick to point out that I (1980) fall at the end of the Millennial spectrum by some measures whenever I make a millennial remark!

Autumn Grayson
Guest

I think I prefer people being ‘calm, rational and fair’ over yelling in someone’s face or being passive aggressive. Though there are times when those other two things might be useful.

You’re term ‘Law of Conservation of Evil’ is awesome, btw, so I think I’m going to start using it 😛

Sometimes I watch the ‘older generation’ rant about the younger generation being ’emotional’ and whatnot, and my inner response to the older generation is ‘well, you’re getting pretty emotional about the idea of other people being emotional’. It’s kind of the same if I see a guy ranting about girls being ’emotional’.

I’m not going to blame only older people or guys for acting like that, though. It’s also a strong tendency for people with the INTJ personality type to act like that if they aren’t mature enough. (I’m an INTJ. So is my Dad. So, obviously gender and age don’t determine that behavior.). INTJs can have a wide spectrum of political beliefs, though, so I’m mainly just pointing to their tendency to dismiss people as ‘irrational’ sometimes. Though they aren’t the only type that does that.

Anyway…I actually do have some concerns for ‘Generation Snowflake’. Some of it is just the goal/tendency to try and eliminate challenges and keep life from being hard at all. Trying to make things better is of course a good thing, and that is what the natural instinct of humanity is. But, we lose a lot when we avoid and eliminate challenges too often.

One guy I listen to on Youtube discusses Myers Briggs types and seems to do a pretty good job of it. One thing he talks about a lot is compatibility, and often questions why someone could even bother being with someone they aren’t ‘compatible’ with. To an extent that’s true, especially in a marriage, but at times it feels he takes it too far. Within the first ten minutes of this video, he expresses why he thinks two INTJs are definitely the least compatible:

INTJs might have a hard time getting along sometimes, but from experience I’d say that doesn’t mean they should always avoid having close relationships with each other. For me, being an INTJ that grew up with an INTJ parent was a good thing. I could pull from my Dad’s experiences and get a better grasp of my personality a lot quicker, and am healthier as a result. Sometimes dealing with another INTJ was hard, but being in a situation where I had to argue with my personality clone forced me to confront the nastier aspects of myself and become a better person. Going through that process was hell, but I don’t regret it and instead feel grateful for it(I can be grateful for bad experiences with people while also acknowledging that their behavior was wrong)

We should strive to improve things and be in healthy relationships, but taking those things too far can cause a lot of problems we aren’t even aware of. Two people that are perfectly compatible might not challenge each other enough, for instance, so they might end up holding onto some very nasty traits for far longer than they should instead of dealing with them. Also, even though I don’t think parents should be overly harsh and controlling, conflict between parents and children seems to actually be necessary and healthy to some degree. If a parent is halfway decent, they will try and protect their child and support them in spite of the conflict. That means the child has a chance to experience and learn to handle stressful or even unfair circumstances in a relatively safe environment. That’s way better than experiencing it for the first time with a boss or significant other.

The way I am now, though, I dunno. Being a parent would scare me because I hate conflict even more than I used to as a kid. I would want to teach and guide, rather than confront in most cases, and would feel pretty stressed out about every little argument. But avoiding conflict as much as possible might actually do the kid a disservice, because they won’t be gaining as much experience with conflict as they should. Also…I’ve learned that the open minded teaching and guiding style can have a chance of backfiring. Sometimes it can look very off handed, as if the parent isn’t really that invested in what the child says, does or feels. Also, there usually is a point where the parent NEEDS to confront their child, and that can end badly if the child isn’t used to confrontation long beforehand.

So, I don’t know. Improvement is good, but we need to be aware of the potential negative effects our ‘improvement’ can have. And improvement shouldn’t equal trying to eliminate all conflict and hardship.

Kathleen J Eavenson
Guest
Kathleen J Eavenson

Autumn, your next-to-last paragraph really spoke to me … no, visualize an old-style sergeant yelling in the face of a trainee! THAT’s how it spoke to me.

I don’t know my Briggs-Meyer classification but I really do relate on the approach you describe. Non-confrontational? I’m the definition of it! Much rather discuss things but if the other person starts to get upset/rants, I’ll back right off. That sort of situation tends to turn my ability to think off.

Fascinating to follow the discussion of the changing of (the expression of) evil. And the morphing makes it so much harder for people to identify their own generation’s iteration of it as Evil. Evil is what one’s parents’ or grandparents’ generations did, not mine, for goodness sake! 😉

Autumn Grayson
Guest

Definitely. Oddly enough, I’ve had people accuse me of loving to argue/loving conflict, but that’s not true at all. I like having interesting discussions, and I can be kinda aggressive when I perceive the presence of a problem, but that actually stems from the fact that I HATE difficulty/conflict and want to do my best to get rid of it. And if someone’s yelling at me, chances are my respect for them will decrease and I might even try to avoid them in the future. It’s really hard to find the right balance, especially when that balance might depend on the situation or person.

notleia
Guest
notleia

Whoa, we can embed YouTube videos now? Lemme try:

https://youtu.be/DCr-r0ZP9P8

Nope. [Narration: then I tried html, but it froze up on me] Sigh.

Maybe it’s just a sign of how Millennial I am that I want to be able to communicate in memes and gifs. Sometimes this comments section feels barren without them. Are we really on the Internet, or are we just letter-to-the-editoring at instantaneous speeds?

Autumn Grayson
Guest

It doesn’t look like it worked. I cut and pasted the link from the url bar, instead of using the embed link on the youtube page, if that helps at all.

notleia
Guest
notleia

Maybe?

Edit: Nope.

Autumn Grayson
Guest

I see your video now 🙂 Sometimes you have to refresh the page/it doesn’t always load right away.

notleia
Guest
notleia

Edit edit: okay, now it does

Rachel Nichols
Guest
Rachel Nichols

“Christian counter culture” has developed some extreme ideas that obsess over stuff that doesn’t count. Dr. John Piper says women shouldn’t conduct traffic but stick to reading meters and wearing dark colors is unfeminine so we should only wear pastels. Not sure what Bible translation he got those rules from. These bizarre ideas are not spreading the Gospel that I can see.

On the other hand the secular progressive extremists tend toward joyless self righteous behaviors. They “demonstrate” much like the Westboro Baptists and express hatred as they decry it. (Just like Fred Phelps graphically describing sodomite behaviors every Sunday morning so you wonder if he had a lust problem there.)

Hmm. Self righteous. Can’t enjoy laughter or simple pleasures like comic books or video games without a sermon dragged in. The SJW’s are the neo-pharisees. At least they don’t drag Jesus into it.

Brennan S. McPherson
Member

https://www.desiringgod.org/interviews/should-women-be-police-officers

Seems you took Piper out of context a bit. . .

Rachel Nichols
Guest
Rachel Nichols

Thank you for the link, Brennan. I agree with many basics of “complementarianism” but draw the line at legalism.