January 30, 2012

The Problems of Life in Bubble Wrap

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It’s been said time and time again that children, so delicate, are our most precious resources. But that notion may have been applied a bit too gratuitously to our generation. Of all the labels that have been pinned on us — the Millennials, the Facebook generation, Generation Y, even the dumbest generation — perhaps the descriptor that would most accurately capture our identity is the bubble-wrapped generation. After all, we were raised by our parents to be timid, taking one overly cautious step after another.

But it’s not mom and dad’s fault. Every day we see a clinical study or survey released claiming mammograms do more harm than good, cell phones do indeed cause tumors or another news story of a kidnapped adolescent or a cruise liner disaster. To our parents, the world is in a state of ruthless anarchy filled with predators.

Petrified, they parents have gone to extraordinary lengths to insulate their children from the slightest threats and have demanded the same from kindergarten teachers all the way to college administrators. As kids, we wore knee pads whenever we played, took daily vitamins and weren’t allowed to walk home alone from school, especially not after dark. We were always kept on a short, invisible leash and our comfort levels were always inflated to their maximum.

And, God forbid, if we ever got a paper cut or a skinned elbow, we were instantly covered in a layer of Band-Aids, which was then covered with another layer of hugs, kisses and reassurances — anything to stop the tears and ease the pain.

The obsession with keeping kids emotionally unperturbed and physically insulated has grown to the point that some parents are refusing to vaccinate their kids in the false belief that it may cause developmental problems.

But the trend continues even after we leave home. Much to our parents’ delight, even Ithaca has been bubble wrapped for our well-being.

We have so many hand sanitizing dispensers that visitors are probably led to believe Purell is our corporate sponsor; we have a talking crosswalk signal that tells us when it is appropriate to cross the street (a judgment we apparently can’t make on our own anymore); and before long, we’ll have nets to catch us from jumping off bridges.

But sometimes, we can’t be protected from everything. Our elbows and egos need to be bruised. Only then do we realize that vulnerability is the natural way of life, that there won’t always be someone holding our hands and that we’re capable of recovering on our own.

Yet college, supposedly the period of our lives dedicated to helping the child transition into the independent, young adult, has just become another extension of childhood, keeping us from learning to take responsibility for ourselves.

But we don’t live in the confines of our childhood comforts once we graduate from college. So what happens when the expectation of having a permanent safety net clashes with reality? We start to play the blame game.

In the political debate, our generation has been irreparably split across the aisle. In the eyes of young Republicans, Obama has only exacerbated our economic woes and for their Democratic counterparts, Bush Junior was the one responsible for digging us into the hole.

In the debate on inequality, the Tea Partiers have turned the government into the big bad wolf while the Occupiers have transformed the Wall Street bankers into the real villains. It was their fault all along, both say. Not ours.

But perhaps the most egregious example happened a few weeks ago when we learned that Cornell University has been hit with a $180 million lawsuit for negligence by Howard Ginsburg ’70 in response to his son’s death. As The Sun quoted him in last week’s article, “We want someone to say, ‘We fucked up and we’re sorry and what do you want us to do to make amends?’”

It’s a natural response to place blame, especially after such a tragedy. In this case, however, there won’t be a culprit at the end of the story.

Howard Ginsburg expected someone to be there for Brad — someone to detect the signs of depression and take preventative measures. But when no one did, he concluded someone must not have done his job.

But no one could have seen those signs, not in Brad or in Matthew Zika ’11 or in William Sinclair ’12. The causes of depression are as elusive as its symptoms and that’s why suicide has been one of the leading causes of death for our age bracket.

Often times, in economic disasters or personal tragedies, assigning blame is impossible. What is possible, though, is taking responsibility for ourselves.

Original Author: Steven Zhang