“Good wishes are not always enough, since the impact can still be harmful.”
The post-millennial youth has been noticed as hypervigilant, politically intolerant, constantly looking for the worst and overgeneralising things to dangerous degrees. To them, the opinions are either good or evil, smells like anxiety. Concepts like helicopter parenting, sensitivity training in institutions and the overprotected environment are perhaps unnecessary evil. As a repercussion, this safetyism has resulted in over-dependent youth, fragile population, group polarisation, cancel culture, tribalism etc. Is Should the motherly nature of the world, to protect her next generation, be framed? No.
Instead, the child should be given the freedom to make independent decisions, open to constructive criticism and be prepared to serve as free thinkers in order to develop an analytical path of reasoning for their own good.
It was the year 2013, things were simple for me, with a lot of free play and very little structure. Though, I remember Rumi whose mom was always hovering around her, dropping her to the threshold of the classroom every morning and waving through the window 5 minutes before school got over. She had a perfectly creased uniform and well-kempt hair (owing to her mom) but before I could even grow envious of her, I started noticing that she was always a little crankier and more sensitive than the rest of us at school. I can’t help but draw a metaphorical image, the post-millennial generation being Rumi and the rest of the world, her mom.
Students have become intolerant towards opposing views, advocating that speech be regulated, emphasising the violent impact words can have on their Mental Health- rendering them unsafe. Scholarly articles and strongly held opinion pieces are seen either as good or evil. These inappropriate bilateral connotations have led to the concept of cancel culture and associated trends.
Over-dependent young adults have started pressurising college administrations and other organisations to “liberate” them from perceived injustices against their group identity. To keep up with their whims, institutions have adopted sensitivity training in microaggression- a statement or action regarded as an instance of subtle or unintentional discrimination against members of a marginalized group. This is seemingly unproblematic and facilitates the correction of uncommon forms of discrimination. The problem lies in the interpretation of this tactic by the same “fragile” population, who don’t necessarily assess the intent-impact value of the act. Instead of recognising microaggression, unintentional slights are viewed in a negative light and everyone has learned to be hypervigilant, constantly looking for the worst in people, overgeneralising it to dangerous degrees. Thus, in minor stressful situations, their primary appraisal i.e the perception of their external environment is always viewed as dangerous stimuli. This has led to most Social Justice activists propagating that microaggression is a preexisting factor in most situations and impact, not the intent, is a sufficient criterion to detect it.
Following this notion, a student suggested putting trigger warnings on ‘The Great Gatsby’, a song was banned on many college campuses for promoting violence and innumerable artworks have been banned because they cause “undue stress” in students.
Renowned academics are ostracized because they are causing danger and acts of bigotry by opposing closely held beliefs. If person A feels uncomfortable, upset, or angry towards person B, that is a sufficient criterion to seek formal redressal. This era of vindictive protectiveness has an eerie resemblance to the plot of Fahrenheit 451, “If you don’t want a man to be unhappy politically, don’t give him two sides to a question to worry him, give him one, better yet, give him none.”
This ecosystem of safetyism has given rise to three corrupt values: The concept of fragility, emotional reasoning, and group polarization. One of the prominent causes of fragility is helicopter parenting and the inability to let the locus of control lie with the child, which betrays the concept of what Nassim Taleb called ‘Antifragile Children.’ This creates a vicious cycle of over-dependency.
In the same sense, emotional reasoning feeds negative filtering which further leads to distorted thinking. Lastly, group polarisation occurs due to what Evolutionary Psychologists call Tribalism. While it can nurture in-group solidarity, it can also lead to extreme competition and conflict among groups. This was an effective strategy for survival a million years ago but has proven to be the reason for erroneous judgment today, but we have the control to put a stop to it. All we have to do is switch off the tribal mode based on our active thinking capacity.
Thus, children should be given the freedom to make independent decisions in certain areas to foster an analytical path of reasoning. This will help them to grow as free-thinking, abled students who would be open to constructive criticism, knowledge, and truth. Education should not lead to duplication of ideas but the creation of individuals. A characteristic feature of a self-sufficient and healthy person is resilience; fighting against all odds and coming out stronger. If the necessary odds from life are removed to create a sheltered ecosystem, how would it ever lead to the growth of an unfettered spirit?
Unfortunately, we have set certain mental schemas for ourselves that dictate our thoughts and behaviour: catastrophizing events, over-generalizing concepts, dichotomous thinking, discounting positives, and negative filtering; these are the patterns we use to recognise an act. Though the direction remains unknown, a parallel phenomenon of concept creep has emerged: a concept liquidating in all directions till bits of it are everywhere.
For example, PTSD was the result of objectively traumatising events, such as war or rape, that would lead to maladaptive behaviours in almost all people involved. Now it means “anything experienced by an individual causing physical or emotional harm…with lasting adverse effects on the individual’s functioning, mental, physical, social, emotional or spiritual well-being.”
One of the key developmental aspects of therapy for PTSD is to expose affected people to those stressful stimuli, to varying degrees, so they get accustomed to it and accept that there are going to be reminders of those events as part of their daily-life fabric.
Some psychologists believe that reactivation of anxiety is so important during recovery that they advise patients to stop taking their anti-anxiety pills. Thus, the precaution of using trigger warnings before posting on social media is counter-productive to therapeutic approaches. What people fail to realise is that avoiding triggers is not a treatment but a symptom of PTSD, nonetheless, we function based on subjective feelings of understanding. This alone proves that good wishes are never enough, the impact can still be harmful.
The problem doesn’t lie in the intent of the motherly nature of the world to protect her next generation. It is the bubble that has been created to provide a buffer, but it is time to let Rumi iron the uniform herself and let her walk to school alone; if she falls on the way, she will learn to get up, on her own.
About the author
Second year student in Bachelors of Psychology (Hons),
Daulat Ram College, Delhi University, India.