Five girls are all smiling and screaming excitedly at each other in the lunchroom, even though they are well within a four foot circle of each other. Katie squeals, “I can’t believe I got an A on the science test. I didn’t study at all!”
Sally yells, “I totally bombed the test! It was so unfair!”
Susie shouts, “I have a math test this afternoon. But I’ll ace it!”
Adrianne yells, “One time, I saw Jake cheat in Mr. K’s class and nobody told…”
Katie interrupts, “I can’t believe Jill still likes Jake. She’s such a flirt.” On and on, each girl in the huddle shouts louder and louder because nobody is listening. Not a single girl responds directly to any of the other girls’ comments.
Nobody says, “Really, that’s amazing. What’s that like?”
Nobody says, “Cool, tell me more.” Or “Wow, that must have hurt. How do you deal with that?”
Instead, it’s just one long and loud string of statements, beginning with the word, “I…”
What is going on here? The first two answers are simple.
1. Humans tend to be self-centered.
2. Adolescents tend to be overly self-conscious.
But could it be that something else is encouraging them to think that the world should revolve around their individual desires?
After all, this is the iPod / iTunes / iPhone / iTouch / “Have It Your Way” generation, in which so much is individualized. I listen to my music with my headphones in my room, and I put all my favorite things on MySpace on my laptop computer. I hope to buy an iPhone so that I can share my digital pics and my text message with my friends.
Even television is completely self-directed, with the DVR allowing us to watch only what we want, when we want, how we want it. We control everything on TV, as well as on the internet. In our home, our TV/Internet service is called “U-Verse.” Clearly AT&T recognizes that I want to control my entertainment / information universe.
Turn on the TV or the radio. At any given moment, there is probably a tremendous amount of expression and a great lack of listening, reflecting, and responding. Isn’t it mostly one channel out-shouting another? To her credit, I think that’s why Oprah is so popular. She actually listens and tries to understand people. And the world adores her for it.
Think about the two of the most popular modes of communication in youth culture today – instant messaging and text messaging. There is a lot of self-expression but not much listening in the typical use of these new technologies.
Similarly, MySpace and FaceBook are used much more for self-expression than for listening, empathizing, or encouraging. (Snooping and eavesdropping don’t count as listening, IMO.) Most young people are spending so much time at these online social networks mainly to make themselves look good and to gather as many “friends” as possible.
These new modes of communicating are terrific for expression, and there is value in that, but in most cases there is little to no listening and responding. In all this, I think young people are merely talking AT each other more effectively, but they are not being heard. That is not good communication. It’s mere self-expression. In some cases, it’s pure narcissism.
On the flip side, I see that many young people do not shout, or even talk, to their peers or their teachers. They are afraid to interact with others. They curl up in their shell and let nobody in.
It’s a scary thing to see the student who begins his school day by pulling his hoodie over his face, hiding his iPod, and ignoring the mass of people all around him. That young man has given up trying to be heard.
Is There a Better Way?
The Bible teaches us that there is a better way of living. It says clearly that by striving to love God and love others, our needs will be met as a result.
The Greatest Commandment was given by Christ in Matthew 22:36-40, “…Love the Lord your God…Love your neighbor as yourself…” And in the next chapter, Christ says, “…whoever exalts himself will be humbled…” In Philippians 2:4, Paul says that we should, “in humility, consider others better than yourselves.”
Some people call it the “I’m Third” lifestyle, in which we put God first, others second, and ourselves third.
It’s a radical way to live in this age. It was radical back then. Nevertheless, it is a timeless truth. Living for God first, others second, and yourself third is simply the best way to spend this life, and it’s the best way to prepare for eternity.
So, check to see if you are listening. Listen more – to God and to others. Show them that you care.
You’ll find that, to a large extent, you forget about yourself and your troubles. You’ll find greater joy in the Lord and in your community. You’ll find the joy that was missing in your individual pursuits. You’ll receive so much of the love you’ve always wanted.
Whether you are 12, 22, or 82, you will find that the “iLife” is empty, whereas the “I’m Third” life is rich.