books · Dreams

Dodge Ball and Zucotti Park

I read an article yesterday (warning – abundant profanity and some crude sexual references) listing what the parents of the people occupying Wall Street (and other venues) did or failed to do, which “ruined” that generation.

OK, we’ll get it out of the way first off, so we’re on the same page.  The system is rigged in favor of the permanent political class and the wealth mechanism they are in bed with, the banks.  Disgust and displeasure with those spawned not only OWS, but earlier the Tea Party.  That much the protest groups share in common.

Moving on, I think OWS is in fact the culmination of much more, and in such, vastly different from the Tea Party.  It is the desperate cry of a generation who have been consistently cushioned and lied to; a prima donna who discovers she is no more beautiful or talented than the rest of the chorus line.

In his book The Trophy Kids Grow Up: How the Millennial Generation is Shaking Up the Workplace, Ron Alsop looks at those born between 1980 and 2001 and their effect on the workplace.  His illustrations are humorous, but his conclusions are somewhat depressing.  He believes that the rest of us will have to figure out how to make life work while pandering to the belief systems of the Millennials; they are the future and this is how it’s going to work, baby.

According to Alsop, we should expect that for a Milennial Employee (which for ease of writing I will now abbreviate to ME) to remain with a company, they need a promotion at least every 6 months, ideally every 3.  There need not necessarily be an associated pay raise; the title means everything.  His illustration is a woman of 28 who is a VP at at well known stock brokerage.  Wow, you think!  A VP at such a young age, one of the goals she set for herself, which she then achieved.  Reading on, you discover she’s an Asst. VP of Corporate Giving.  A what?  That’s a big ol’ whoop arsed title for someone who probably processes paper, granting bequests to low income school budgets.  How many other Asst. VP’s for Corporate Giving are there?  What job did she promote from?  Perhaps the Undersecretary to the Exalted Distributor of All Written Communication?  I hearken back to the days when we laughed at the politically sensitive “Domestic Engineer” (wife/mother) or the “Sanitation Expert” (garbage man).  There is power in words, and the ME’s need to have all the good words they can, otherwise they move on in search of greener pastures.

Parents, school counselors and the popular media did these folks wrong; they knew better and lied. How? By eliminating what had been an almost Darwinian part of human experience, competition. Give someone a new title and you have avoided having to rank anyone.  A promotion is only as expensive as the new door sign and everyone feels validated.

Probably the most obvious example of how we took competition out of the school of life would be the banning of Dodge Ball as cruel, where people are targeted and hurt. The thinking ran that superior players could pick on the weak, deliberately injuring them under the guise of Physical Education. Attempts to protect the lesser players meant that the sport needed to be eliminated. What was overlooked was the notion that the game gives each player not only the opportunity to fail, but the stimulus to want to succeed. Working out strategies for avoiding a hurling ball translates into great life lessons, as well as preparing the individual for dealing with failure; sometimes life hurts. Am I saying Dodge Ball is a fabulous game, which should be immediately played on every street corner? No, but it is iconic insofar as the public outcry against it went. Other sports can be equally as hurtful with a matchup between a skilled and unskilled player, but even in games of tennis, baseball, flag football, etc., the tendancy is to try and even the playing field and minimize the likelihood someone will suffer either physically or mentally at the closing buzzer.

This generation, more than any other has been told they can do anything, and has been shielded from the consequences of failing.  I have recruiter friends who tell me it is a common occurrence for ME’s to show up for job interviews with their parents. Kids did as they were told and went to school, took on the debt to go to college and now find the promised land isn’t there for them.  A bitter betrayal, so now mom or dad is trying yet again to make it happen for them.

As with sport, so has failure in general been stifled in the upbringing of the ME’s.  They were never spanked (parents lived in fear of being jailed for child abuse if they spanked in public), but “timed out” to reflect on their bad behavior.  A reprimand meant you were potentially scarring your child, so rational discussions (with a self-indulgent toddler) became the new standard for child rearing.

As society moved further away from a black and white morality standard, aided by the teaching of relativism in the public schools, one of the inadvertent victims became the American work ethic, which had previously been the gold standard world wide.  I recall Stephen Fry talking about, “those Americans being so darned hard working and enterprising.”  As “pulling yourself up by your bootstraps” went out of vogue, and we taught our ME’s they deserved a golden future, we hobbled them with unrealistic expectations.  Part of that hobbling was the parent’s very real desire to make that happen for their child, regardless of the ultimate cost, but as we helicoptered (hovered), we took away their learning curve on making it happen for themselves.

So back to Zucotti Park (or Oakland, or Westlake).  We have ME’s camped out, making a statement.  It is a loose statement of discontent with no action items, only complaints.  Fueling the complaints are yes, the entrenched power structures, but also the load of student debt coupled with the lack of jobs to which they feel they are entitled.  The reality of the ball being lobbed by banks, parents, schools, and media has smacked them on the thigh and the welts hurt.  They’re angry and don’t know how to deal with it otherwise.  I suspect more than one would like their parents to fix it.


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