Saturday, March 10, 2007

Generation Me

"Study finds alarming rise in narcissism, self-centeredness in ‘Generation Me’. Today’s college students are more narcissistic and self-centered than their predecessors, according to a comprehensive new study by five psychologists who worry that the trend could be harmful to personal relationships and American society." Link to the entire article here.

The findings of the study do not surprise me that much considering the US to be an industrialized and highly individualistic nation. We are talking about a society that values independence, personal choice, self-reliance, competition, among a host of other features present in individualistic societies that foster self- over collective- development. Growing up, kids are taught early on to engage in activities that will benefit them in the long run and set them apart from other college applicants who aspire to enroll in their dream university. Community service at the local church or hospital, fundraising marathons, holding office in a social club/organization, and clothes drives for the homeless begin to occupy the lives of students who consider rising above a high school diploma.

Undoubtedly, all these activities play a role in refining the character of students and add to their skill-set while helping to build communities. But what is often lost in motion is the real motivation behind those who seek such activities. Are they really volunteering their time and effort for the common good or merely for the attainment of a college recommendation? Or is it to expand their list of references? Or perhaps, polish up their resumes’ extra-curricular activities section? Remember, personal gain is key. How will this help “me” get ahead in life?

Many secondary schools today require students to fulfill a minimum number of voluntary community service hours to graduate. Hmmm, do you see the contradiction? This undermines the voluntary nature of the work and makes it more of a burden in addition to the set expectation of getting something in return for any work you perform. The meaning of “community” service thus becomes devalued. What happens in effect is that we create an environment that revolves around personal value. We measure value in terms of how unique our personal profile is as we await our 15 minutes of fame and set ourselves as "different". But if everyone is different, is anyone?