This text has been taken from Jean M. Twenge's 'Generation Me - Why Today's Young
Americans are confident, Assertive, Entitled - and More Miserable Than Ever Before'
Twenge's observations refer to American young people who were born in the 1970's and 80's. What about German young
people? Do they behave similarly or completely differently?
Generation Me has also lost hope in our ability to make choices in our own lives. In some ways, these
changed attitudes seem at odds with the focus on the self. lf we see ourselves as independent individuals,
why are we increasingly blaming others when things go wrong? It comes back again to the idea of
self-esteem and feeling good about ourselves. Suppose that you're a student and you fail a test. If you
acknowledge that you were lazy about studying - or just plain stupid - your self-esteem will suffer. If you
can blame the teacher's unfair test, however, you can slide though the experience still feeling good
about yourself. We say that bad things aren't our fault in an effort to preserve our self-confidence.
"When there are few winners and many losers, it may be easier to protect one's sense of self-worth by
not trying than to try and still not succeed," notes an education book that argues against competition.
What's the point in trying something difficult? lf we do, we might learn something - even if it's just
out own limitations. But the popular GenMe belief is to protect the self at all costs. John, 23, says:
"It makes more sense psychologically to believe in fate. lf you don't, your self-esteem will plummet
each time you fail."
A sterling example of the link between high self-esteem and making excuses was the first episode of
the British import game show The Weakest Link, the 2001 phenom with the cruelly singsong catchphrase,
"You are the weakest link. Goodbye." In an article titled "Amber Waves of Self-Esteem," Time TV critic
James Poniewozik noted that British contestants would look appropriately chastened when they lost.
Americans, in stark contrast, made excuses like "I was just getting warmed up" or blamed their teammates'
jealousy. As Poniewozik put it, "Being American means never having to say you're an idiot."
Our high self-esteem also doesn't lead us to believe we're in control because, as one of the self-esteem
programs puts it, we were taught to value "who we are and not what we do." We're unique and special even
if we don't work hard, so why do it? Educational psychologist Maureen Stout argues that the self-esteem
movement disconnects reward from achievement, producing cynical kids. She points out that 5- and
6-year-olds start school eager to learn, but that "when they encounter teachers who give them an A just
for turning up in class ... they have no choice but to become cynical about the educative process."
And if they don't become cynical then, Stout says, they will once they reach adulthood and discover that
they have not been prepared for the real world. This cynicism comes from the mismatch between self-esteem
and reality. GenMe is faced with an unusual set of circumstances. From infancy, we are taught to express
ourselves, to believe in ourselves, to follow our dreams. Then we enter a world where getting into an
Ivy League university depends just as much on luck and circumstance as on work and talent, and where
even out local public university might not admit us if we got B's in high school. The good job or the
desirable promotion might go to the person who works the hardest, or it might go to the person who
catches a lucky break. Our entire romantic life might turn on the luck of meeting the right person at
the right time. Even when we decide to give it up for the day and relax, we read 'People' and watch
'Entertainment Tonight' or 'ESPN' to worship movie stars and athletes - our modern-day gods and
goddesses who, for the most part, gained their ascendance through genes and circumstance. Our parents
and teachers told us how special we were, but they skimped on the lesson that life isn't fair.
Source: Jean M. Twenge's 'Generation Me, Free Press paperback, pp. 147-49
A's and B's = very good and good grades at American schools
Ivy League university = elite universities like Harvard or Stanford universities
lucky break = a piece of luck
ESPN = an acronym for Entertainment and Sports Programming Network, an American cable television
network dedicated to broadcasting sports and entertainment
1. Characterize America' Generation Me' and describe how such people encounter 'real life'.
2. Have you observed people among your classmates and friends who also love themselves, consider
themselves as 'special' and pursue unrealistic goals?