One of my favorite shows on television right now is 30 Rock. Lately I’ve been catching up on old episodes on Netflix, and I recently watched a clip that I thought was both hilarious and thought-provoking.
In case you’ve never seen the show, it follows an SNL-like t.v. show created by head writer Liz Lemon, played by Tina Fey. Alec Baldwin plays Jack Donaghy, Liz’ boss and the head of NBC. Jack also serves as a mentor figure for Liz. In this particular episode, Jack looks for another employee to mentor because his fiancée is uncomfortable with his and Liz’s unusually close relationship.
As it turns out, Jack has a hard time replacing Liz. No one fits all the requirements he has for a pupil, and in one scene we learn why the junior execs in his company are especially unqualified. Jack finds none of them to be worthy of his mentorship, sighing, “There’s something wrong with this generation.”
No sooner does he finish his sentence than a young executive walks through the door with a fabio-esque haircut and his eyes fixed on his Blackberry. After shooting off an e-mail he looks up at Jack and casually declares,
“Sorry I’m late. BTdubs, I gotta leave for my ironic kickball league in about ten. Also, I’m not interested in this position unless I’m going to be constantly praised. And, I won’t cut my hair.”
I don’t know why that scene makes me laugh so hard! Probably because his self-absorption and self-entitlement rings a little true. While it’s clearly a caricature of the self-esteem movement’s fruits, it’s not that far off the mark. Social commentators don’t call my generation the “trophy kids” for nothing.
Much has been written about the cold reality facing entitled Millennials (born between 1980 and 2001) who enter the work force. Having been coddled and praised all the way through college, the real world is a real shock to them. Entitled people don’t make for good employees either. They don’t receive criticism well, they expect higher pay, flexible schedules, excess vacation time, and affirmation for fulfilling their most basic job requirements.
What I’ve begun to wonder, however, is what marriage will be like for this generation. Granted, not all Millennials are that sheltered, but for those who fit the bill I wonder what will happen when they say “I do?” Marriage, after all, isn’t necessarily great for self-esteem. God has used it to humble me mightily. And how will marriage square with a mentality that an academic dean at Stanford described as follows: “They really do seem to want everything, and I can’t decide if it’s an inability or an unwillingness to make trade-offs.” An unwillingness to make trade-offs? Trade-offs is the bread and butter of my marriage! This does not bode well.
As Americans get married later and later, we are only beginning to witness the interesting mix of matrimony with instant gratification and self-entitlement. For now, what we do know about the “Get a Trophy for Participating” Generation is enough to sober the next generation of parents. As we think about raising children who will be good spouses, and more importantly good Christians, we have to weigh the importance of self-esteem. It is not that self-love or success are bad things, but they are not ultimate things to which all other things must bow.
In a world as crazy and broken as ours, it’s easy to want to shelter our innocent children and keep them from being broken. That is part of a parent’s job. But as Dietrich Bonhoeffer once wrote, “When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die.” Amid the self-esteem movement, how will we raise up disciples who are ready for this kind of call? I’m not sure the self-esteem movement is prepared to answer that question.