In a recent series of articles, conservative Dennis Prager asks: Why are so many young people unhappy? Prager cites “data showing the apparently unprecedentedly high rate of unhappiness among young people in America (and elsewhere, but I am focusing on America). The rates of suicide, self-injury, depression, mass shootings and loneliness (at all ages) are higher than ever recorded. It seems that Americans may have been happier, and certainly less lonely, during the Great Depression and World War II than today, even with today’s unprecedentedly high levels of health, longevity, education and material well-being.”
My own answer to the question as to why so many young people are unhappy: The death of the mind. Specifically, the death of human reason and the things that go along with rationality and reason: achievement, purpose, success and the joy of living.
You have to start by looking at human nature. We have amazing brains. Our minds — i.e., our reasoning, and our thinking — are the means for using our potential. It takes other things, of course. Your minds are worthless without action to back up your thinking, and the willingness to take risks. Deferring gratification and learning to focus your attention matter too. But if you don’t have any confidence in your reasoning or thinking, how can you motivate yourself to act? Or to learn self-discipline? What’s the point? You might as well just pick up your smart phone and see what your favorite movie or musical celebrity star is saying to bash Donald Trump, human achievement and any remnant of material progress.
We’re well aware of the dominant attitude in favor of socialism among young people. The unhappy young people I have known suggests this embrace of socialism and anti-freedom stems from envy — mixed with hopelessness. If you could sum up their emotional states in a sentence, it would be something like: “It’s not fair so many have so much. I’m never going to have anything. How could I? How can I possibly achieve?” So they fantasize that equalization by unspecified means will somehow make things right. Socialism is not for happy people. People with confidence and optimism are not drawn to socialism. “Hope and change” — those are the dominant emotional attitudes of capitalism, science, reason, and industrialized/technological progress … NOT Communism!
I blame this more on the way children are educated than anything else. Most children are NOT raised by a method of, say, Montessori education. Montessori education, when properly executed, strives to teach children to think and reason at their own pace, but also to the very limits of their ability. Proper education is not about “socialization”; it’s about development of your mind. In America’s schools, today more than ever, socialization — not education — is the defining and guiding principle.
Education, not socialization, is what children desperately need. Educate them, and the socialization will largely take care of itself. It’s important to instill this principle in a young mind very early on. I’ll never forget the time I walked into a Montessori classroom (on a private tour, as I knew the owner) and I saw a group of three-year-olds reciting French. Stunned, I asked the school’s owner, “Are they geniuses?” No, she replied. Not most of them. “It’s just what happens when you teach the right way, and at the right age”.
You don’t have to take a tour of today’s Common Core, command-and-control-run-from-the-Imperial-City-of-D.C. to know that this is NOTHING like the way the vast majority of young minds are educated today.
That’s one of the most surprising things being a therapist for three decades has taught me: Most self-esteem arises from your confidence in your mind, your thinking and your ability to reason. That explains how people reared by perfectly awful or neglectful parents sometimes still manage to achieve so much. Education saved them. And it likewise explains why today’s dreary, widespread attitude of envy and mediocrity is so prevalent in young people. It’s tragic — because it never had to be.
We are all capable of so much more. That’s truer than many of today’s unhappy young people know.
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