Reflections on recent events, plus the occasional fact
free rant unfiltered by rational argument.
Every generation complains about the next: “The kids these days!” Since our ancestors chased down the first mammoth, we’ve lamented the upcoming lot aren’t as accomplished as us. It’s nonsense, and we know it. For starters, we weren’t as good as we remember, and anyway, we created and moulded our kids. That makes us partly culpable for any perceived failings, real or not.
We compound our guilt by telling kids their unique and they needn’t worry because we’ll protect them. It’s bollocks. We should be saying them life is complicated, get ready for a few knocks. Plus, set aside the desire for instant gratification.
Hong Kong graduates protest they can’t afford a flat while splashing money on holidays and fancy restaurants. The new norm is frequent job hopping, chasing that elusive career. Is the intrinsic nature of the Internet a factor? The fast-moving games, rapid turn-over, all snap-chatty culture, with no looking down the road.
Long-term, the outcomes from such behaviour, are not healthy. Both the individual and society suffer. A rat trained to move a lever to receive food will over-indulge. The theory is open to challenge, but it illustrates a point. Too much food leads to bloat, overweight and then possible death. The rat can't see the consequences of its actions. Humans have that ability.
Likewise, the young people who focus on the present displace troubles to their future-self. The issue doesn't go away. Those troubles for ‘future-you’ arise from things you don't deal with now. These await you in the coming days, months and years. And the worst thing is that parents are complicit in this process.
I know a 31-year-old man, actually a man-child, who lives at home. He's reliant on his parents, never had a full-time job and isolated. The parents lament this situation. They created it. The man-child is a direct result of their unwillingness to enforce rules. Allowed to drop school, he played no rough games, avoided all difficulties.
Deluded by a strange concept that they could be pals with their son, discipline and guidance were absent. The end product is sitting in his bedroom, playing on a computer. He has no friends, is resentful, angry, disengaged and self-involved. Further, he despises his well-intentioned, yet misguided parents. Their lack of firmness has created the opposite of their desires. And he’s not isolated example. It's happening across the world.
When the bedroom hermit deems to grace us with his presence, he vents forth about the world of privilege. He claims success gets given to some because of their connections. These delusional rants ignore his parasite existence, his failings and the comforts he enjoys on the back of his parents. A nihilistic individual, everything is someone else's fault.
Then you have the earnest student who sacrifices his free-time to study hard. There is no immediate reward. While his friends enjoy themselves in the bar, he'll be head down in the books. His gratification will come later. Better exam results open the door to a career with long-term prospects. His sacrifice pays in his future. A future he shaped.
Such a person has mastered his impulses, controlled those basic animal instincts that demand an immediate reward. These instincts served us well as evolving creatures when food and water are scarce. We’d eat as much as possible when the food arrived. Then over time, we learnt to store some.
Next, we started sharing stored resources with our fellows. If one group had an excess of food, it provides to the less fortunate. On that basis, you expect something in return. Over thousands of years, this evolved as trading as a social contract develops between us. Do something now, earn a reward later. That rule still underpins society as a cultural norm.
Young people need to recognise this evolved value in human culture. Although, I suspect these days we've lost the courage to give them the right steer. Confused parents need clarity. Some are fearful of limiting their kid's freedoms, in case it suppresses some natural creative force. This approach is nonsense.
You can see it every day. A kid is misbehaving, yelling, and creating a scene at the supermarket. Embarrassed the mother falls back on the risible excuse "She's very clever and artistic.”
The little darling may well be creative. That doesn't change the fact that she has to fit into society by obeying some simple rules. Even the most liberated hippy recognises we drive on one side of the road to avoid accidents. Likewise, kids who fail to socialise or learn to cooperate with others, face a difficult life. Over-protective parents shield the child from hurt feelings and the opportunity to learn.
A Yale University student yelling at her professor in anger over a Halloween costume is another symptom. Such a young person is unfit to venture into the world to face harsh realities. Setting aside terrible manners, how is such a person going to handle genuine hardship. Triggered by such a minor issue, this person is useless as a lawyer, who has to listen to stories of rape and assault. Such a person is no value as a police officer or social worker.
What's to be done? For a start, adults - especially parents - need to be honest with themselves and their children. Life is tough, things will go wrong, and most things don’t come easy. Most successful people work hard for their gains. Plus, it’s never an easy journey. They face setbacks, reversals, failures, but bounce back. They don’t claim victimhood or curl-up in a ball bleating.
Sacrifice and hand-work will generally pay off, even if only in modest ways. A life of constant instant gratification offers no such outcome as you end up eating your tail. I’m not suggesting young people need to live like a monk. Far from it. But, they need to recognise they have a narrow window of opportunity that won’t arise again.
Moreover, parents need to be clear that their role is to guide a child to be a useful member of society. Failure to do so is the sin of omission. Remember, you're a parent, not their best mate.
Walter De Havilland is one of the last of the colonial coppers. He served 35 years in the Hong Kong Police.