Last week I received some e-mail regarding my last column on self-reliance. One correspondent wrote, “Dr. Joe, how do you deal with today’s sense of entitlement?”
Another asked, “Don’t you think kids complain too much about the difficulties around them?”
Guys, I ain’t Dr. Phil. But let me share some thoughts regarding a symposium I recently attended about the ills that plague today’s youth. (Or “youts,” as I like to say. Did you see the movie “My Cousin Vinny” with Joe Pesci? That’s how his character pronounces “youths” in that film.)
The speaker discussed the difficulties of youth in regard to education, competition and racial, economic and social concerns. However, the focus quickly disintegrated into a forum of complaints.
If I heard the phrase self-esteem one more time, I was going to throw the speaker out the window. I was tired of listening to New Age psychotherapeutic babblers gurgling about the difficulties of life for youth and that it's somebody else's fault.
I remember attending a 12-week philosophy course during my college years. My teacher was Sgt. Winston. His philosophy was simple: He expected that at zero-dark-hundred we should leap up like jackrabbits when he threw a trash can down the floor of a rusty old barracks. Then, we should spend the day at a dead run, learning and mastering all that he taught us. He didn't care whether we wanted to do these things or if we could do them. We were going to do them and we did.
Sgt. Winston, an accomplished therapist, perfected the attitude adjustment. If the urge to complain overcame any of us, he took his attitude tool, a size-12 boot, and made the necessary adjustments. It put us in touch with our feelings. We felt like not complaining any more. We learned that there are things you have to do and that we could do them. We learned to take care of each other and believe in ourselves in spite of self-esteem, and that sacrificing for the country would be our duty.
We also learned that complaining is humiliating. He stressed, “We should solve our problems or live with them, or have the grace to shut up about them.” Sarge believed in personal responsibility. If your life turns dismal, is it somebody else's fault?
It seems today that everybody is a self-absorbed victim and that self-respect and strength of character have become symptoms of emotional insufficiency. Oh, alas, alack, sniffle, seek, squeak—the world's picking on me because I'm black, brown, Asian, fat, female, funny looking, dysfunctional or can't get dates! If people suffer the slightest infraction, they call a support group and a lawyer.
It's incredible what we complain about. Check out the self-pity section of your bookstore. It's called “Self Help.” You'll find books that will explain that because of an unhappy childhood you are now an abused, pallid, squashed and pathetic adult.
I'm writing a book: “Dropping Your Inner Child Down a Well.”
When I was in graduate school, I sat in on a group-therapy session. I said, “Look, maybe if you folks stop feeling sorry for yourselves and get a life, things might be better.” They were complaining about the difficulty of finding meaning for young adults. I interjected, “When I was your age, I was in the DMZ getting my butt shot off.”
The therapist was not amused. Little did I know that the patients’ self-esteems were undergoing cardiopulmonary resuscitation, and I was suggesting that they get a life instead of picking at their psychic scabs. What the heck was I thinking? Back then I was pretty obnoxious. You couldn’t take me anywhere!
I believe that all humanity shares equally in the maddening inertia of circumstance defined as difficulty. We were never promised a rose garden. It’s what we do with our lives, despite circumstances, that defines our lives.
Yeah, so I’m a little harsh, but that’s my story and I’m sticking to it. Pass this on to a “yout.”
JOE PUGLIA is a practicing counselor, a professor of education at Glendale Community College and a former officer in the Marines. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.