A friend wrote me to say, “I disagreed with a young person and she told me that I caused her even more trauma than she already experience and that I am insensitive and ignorant of her feelings.”
We baby boomers hear stories like that one and have one of two reactions: Either, “Your friend should have been more sensitive.”
Or we think, “Poor little snowflake – yet another product of cancel culture.”
Where did cancel culture come from? It came from people uncomfortable with the messiness of freedom. And in part it arose from the desire to protect young people. We want to protect them from what we consider to be dangerous thinking. Of course that protective instinct is a positive thing – hard-wired into parents while their young are still learning to walk and navigate this sometimes harsh planet. But it is an instinct that also needs to be modulated if our children are ever to grow up.
Terrible things often happen as children develop. As kids, we are vulnerable. Those with power can run roughshod over us. If the normal protective elements of a close family (and especially a vigilant and thoughtful mother) are not in place, then flinching and hiding can become a habit.
And moving from that place of continually feeling vulnerable to one where we are self-sufficient and whole usually involves a precarious journey of exposure to increasing levels of risk.
I remember at age 10 complaining to my parents about a bully in the neighborhood. Their response was not to protect me, but to help me think through how I would navigate a world where bullies show up.
This strategy was empowering. I learned that my parents were not going to protect me in life. That was not their job! They had helped me survive childhood, but they knew I’d need to learn new skills as an adult.
So many kids don’t have parents who have the skill to protect their children just enough for them to develop what psychologists call agency – that capacity to make choices for themselves.
Either their kids are exposed too early to the harsh Darwinian life outside their home and feel traumatized, or on the other end of the spectrum, they may be overprotected by a helicopter mom who sees the potential for pain and serves as an ever-present security detail pushing challenges of every kind out of the way.
Both strategies lead to vulnerable children becoming immature, poorly developed adults. Lean too far one direction and you have the emotionally shut down life of a survivor.
Or lean the other direction and you populate the world with victims looking for someone to protect them. You fill the economy with lawyers looking to fill that role and a nanny state run by politicians catering to that dysfunction.
The founder of Dubai, Sheikh Rashid, was asked about the future of his country, and he replied, “My grandfather rode a camel, my father rode a camel, I ride a Mercedes, my son rides a Land Rover, and my grandson is going to ride a Land Rover, but my great-grandson is going to have to ride a camel again.”
Why is that? He was asked.
And his reply was, “Hard times create strong men, strong men create easy times. Easy times create weak men, weak men create difficult times.”