In 1999, the estate of Edwin Friedman published notes from an unfinished book. The result was “A Failure of Nerve: Leadership in the Age of the Quick Fix.” Here is what he said about American society’s reactivity to nearly everything.

“Involved here is more a matter of differing, bickering, or taking sides. As with any chronically anxious family, there is in American society today an intense quickness to interfere in another’s self-expression, to overreact to any perceived hurt, to take all disagreement too seriously, and to brand the opposition with ad hominem personal epithets (chauvinist, ethnocentric, homophobic, and so on.) As in personal families, this hardens hearts and leaves little room for forgiveness or balanced accommodation.”

Keep in mind this was nearly five years before Facebook debuted. It was before nearly everyone was walking around with smartphones. This was published the same year as this year’s college graduates were born. They grew up raised by this society and now they are connected to it 24/7. What Freidman described in the 1990’s has become even more engrained in our society. Our last president is the epitome of what this looks like. We should keep an eye on our current one.

What we are left with is an environment in which anyone who is part of a group dare not speak independently for fear of reprisals and exclusion. In such an environment it is not possible to “break ranks” with your group because it acts as an emotionally bound unit with no capacity or tolerance for the individual to express an opinion, or even introduce a fact, that does not cohere with the groups message or identity. Truth dies and is replaced by narrative. This is the world we have given to our youth.

Add to this the immediacy of nearly everything. Not only do we look for quick fixes that reduce the immediate pain but do nothing to address the problem, we now have immediate access to someone that will answer nearly any question we might have that will confirm our current thinking.

I had a discussion with a friend who works with students at a public university in Texas. We were discussing some of the faith questions that those students have. He said students run at hyper-speed when it comes to wanting their questions answered. Their rhythms of life are different than those of their parents and grandparents.

When I have a question about something, I will usually wait until I can speak with someone by phone or in person. I may sit on my question for a week or two — sometimes longer. With the youngest two generations that question will be sent via text. If there is not a reply in the next ten minutes they will be listening to a podcast or watching a video on the subject, often without regard to the presenter’s background or agenda.

There are some, certainly not all, that do this without a firm belief system in place. There are many who not only have not formed a belief system, but do not know any reliable sources to discuss faith and morality from the standpoint of faith. From a spiritual perspective this is the perfect set-up for being “tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching. . .” (Ephesians 2:14, NIV)

One can see, then, how such an environment can lead young people toward causes that may be worth pursuing. The problem is that these causes have become their faith. And many causes have rules and regulations (many of them tacit rather than explicit) that its members dare not break.

Anecdotally, I can say that I regularly get calls from people in their 20s who had a question, listened to a podcast, and got confused. I know that for every one that does call or talk to someone in person, there are many that do not.

We live in a world full of younger generations who care about justice, equality, and the planet. It is, in my opinion, our populist leaders (on both sides of the aisle) who let us down. It is our focus on one or two issues to the exclusion more important things that have let them down. They see this, and its duplicity and are rightly appalled.

I am, however, an eternal optimist. If you are fortunate enough to have others in your life that send you questions via text — answer them — immediately. It is rarely a nuanced or satisfactory answer, but it keeps the connection and conversation going. Do not judge the question. They are searching — let them.

It is always important for each generation to pass down their faith to the next. This is getting continually more difficult as the world continues to change at breakneck speed while it seems to be fracturing into ever more isolated ideologies. Stay tethered to faith and the reality in which we live.

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