Teaching hysteria is like eating your seed corn; when you need what you had, it is gone. Today, we are slipping, spending money belonging to future generations and teaching hysteria – eating our seed corn. Rather than modeling calm, confidence, appreciation, and gratitude for sacrifice – “the long view” – we seem content to indulge overreactions. Examples abound, leading nowhere good. Time to reverse course.
In my younger days, I was unsure about lots of things, but had confidence that adults – older folks who walked slower, talked slower, and acted responsibly, many WWII and Korean War vets – knew the score, were keeping track, and had my back. They did not panic, or pretend panic was good.
Today, what have we? We have adults shrieking that climate change will end humanity in a few generations, if not a few years. We have national leaders – who know the world is not ending – quick to shut down schools, leave kids in isolation, bankrupt businesses, and fan fear rather than be calm and teach confidence and the fine art of fear management. We have foreign policy amateurs speak freely of war, including nuclear.
All that is wrong, unnecessary, and misdirected, leading younger people to think the wheelhouse is empty, wheel spinning madly, everyone preparing for end of days, that craziness it normal. It is not.
We have media – print and broadcast journalists – no longer content to serve as unhurried purveyors of truthful information, no longer interested in sowing and reaping public trust, but quick to seed dissension, accept distortion, play activist, stir riots, sell disgust, and live with distrust.
Rather than studying the style and compass of probing, public-spirited, uncompromising – sometimes stunningly unflappable – journalists like Ernie Pyle, Bill Mauldin, Walter Cronkite, Howard K. Smith, Edward Morrow, Walter Lippman, and William Buckley, we watch journalists play to polarization.
On the social media side, what can you say? We see this new institution – filled with potential for serious dialogue – twisted in odd directions, coopted and politicized by corrupt actors, undermining problem resolution, pushing anxiety, fear, distrust in democracy, emotional zings, zaps, and tweets.
Older Americans take this clatter-trap with a grain of salt. They have seen what real crises look like, from WWII, Korea, Vietnam, Middle East, Cuban Missile, and Cold War to stagflation, presidential resignation, market collapse and regeneration, to 9-11. They know good times outweigh bad, with perspective.
But what are we teaching the younger generations? The answer is a bizarre, misplaced default to hysteria, anxiety, and dystopia, a fear bordering on always-almost-here-apocalypse, a state of unease instead of calm, nerves not inner peace, impending calamity not implacable can-do.
Where we wondered, worked, and managed to wrestle the unexpected with lessons learned from future-focused generations that preceded us – and from our Nation’s history, much of the “Gen Z” kids seek refuge, excuses, and escapism. Rather than turning into the wind, they run from it.
If you think this unfair to them – or to those of us whose turn it is to teach – just look at the level of hysteria and inborn stress kids carry.
One recent story – a national poll – revealed that, after Roe v. Wade was reversed, 37 percent reacted to the national hysteria with near panic, many saying they would have changed colleges (to a different state) if the decision had come earlier, some saying they needed to leave the country.
On climate change, 41 percent call it their top fear. At the same time 83 percent of those 14 to 24 have “anxiety” over the issue – with one in three saying it keeps them indoors, one in four saying it affects their concentration.
Corroborating these numbers, and equally shocking, a recent Blue Cross poll puts the number of “Gen Z” kids in trouble for mental health at close to 80 percent, much of this driven by fear of climate change.
Meantime, 24-7 coverage of terrors associated with COVID-19 wracked “Gen Z” with fear, to the point where 42 percent of “Gen Z” are now diagnosed with a “mental health condition.”
All of this points to a major failing – a failing of what are now America’s older generations, those who presently dominate, define, own, or lead in the critical fields of education, journalism, politics, law, medicine, and any others interacting with younger Americans.
Rather than teaching calm, confidence, peace, perspective, and can-do, or at least rational, non-emotional recourse to logic, facts, life history, and the nation’s historic – and highly successful – attitude to crisis assessment, management, and resolution, we have conditioned many to fear and folly.
As 2023 approaches, thinking beyond the present it appropriate – but in perspective, with hope not hysteria, faith not fear, a sense of passing forward lessons we learned long ago. The sky is not falling, the world is not ending, time has not ceased, and nor will it soon.
Needed is a resolution – to teach common sense, uncommon calm, management of fear not surrender to it, conservation perhaps but not panic, thoughtful action not overreaction. The best history is made with gratitude for sacrifice, presence of mind, commitment to action, not anxiety, not being forlorn, not eating our seed corn. It’s time to reverse course and replace hysteria with confidence. We can, we must.
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