Chronic Over-Correctors (Thoughts on Going Viral)

We humans are chronic over-correctors.  Recent circumstances have brought this tendency of ours to the top of my mind again.  But first, a few thoughts on going viral:

1. There are some really skillful, talented cussers out there.  To the lady woman who called me a self-involved, half-witted [email protected]%^$#   *@%$#%  @$&***^%, bravo.  That's a new one.

2. People can bring Hitler into any conversation.  Even conversations about teenage girls and motherhood.  This is a direct quote (which I deleted) from an old post: "Hitler was breast fed."  Really?!  Okay moms, everybody just BE COOL.  We're all on the same team.

3. Sorry Twitter and Google, but Facebook rules the internet.  For 5 days straight the Teenage Girl post was getting 2.5 views per second, averaging 200,000 views a day, and at least 95% of them came from Facebook.

4. It doesn't matter how many people read your blog, your kids still don't take care of themselves.  C'mon guys, Mom has writing to do.  It's like they're 4 years old or something. Wait...

5. I am committed to staying on the side of the creators, not the critics. (Read this.  And this.)

6. Advice and opinions are cyclical, which brings me back to the over-correctors thing:

C.S. Lewis used to say that for every current book you read, you should read a really old book.

He listed a lot of great reasons, but his point that I can't shake this morning is this: people are far too quick to develop chronological prejudices.  As in, "It's newer, therefore it is more relevant.  The way we do things now is better, smarter, and more efficient than the way our parents (and grandparents) did things."

I think about this a lot at church when I hear things like "This is not your grandparents church."  "We aren't afraid to be authentic, real, raw."  "We believe in engaging the culture." "We hate hypocrisy."  "We believe in community and doing life together."

As if our generation invented authenticity.  Like all the Christians who came before us for hundreds of years loved hypocrisy and judgement and nobody before us ever thought of using the New Testament church as a model.

When you take a step back the pattern is obvious.

And it has been painfully obvious in the 1,000+ comments on the "Ten Things I Want To Tell Teenage Girls" post.  I'll use point #8 (Your reputation matters, and you should care what other people think about you) to illustrate what I'm getting at.

A couple generations ago, this hardly needed to be said - it was obvious.  People lived in smaller, more rural communities.  The internet didn't exist.  Your word was your bond.  You shook on it.  People got married younger.

But people, when left to their own devices, tend to go too far.  People went from building a good name within a community (wise) to finding their worth in what others thought of them (damaging).  And everything got all messed up.

  • People became chronic people-pleasers.
  • People were afraid to say "no."
  • People felt overwhelming pressure to conform.
  • People put as much stock in a stranger's opinion of them as they did in what they knew to be true of themselves.
  • Criticism felt like a personal attack.
  • People lived as slaves to the opinions of others.

So we over-corrected - again.  The next generation of people held high the banner of "It doesn't matter what anybody else thinks about me!"  Which is freeing and healthy - to a point.  Not caring what other people think is great in terms of determining your value and worth, in terms of being creative, in terms of doing what's right even if it's not popular, and standing up for what you believe in.  But in our zeal we took it too far, and everything got all messed up again.

  • People sacrificed relationships with parents (and friends) because they didn't care what their parents (and friends) thought.
  • People became hardened to advice (and often common sense) because they "didn't care what anyone thought about them."
  • People jeopardized their futures because they were too self-involved in the present.
  • People started to uncensor themselves, voicing rude or gossipy remarks under the guise of "I don't care what anyone thinks; I'm just telling the truth."
  • People became selfish.  They made their own opinions the standard.  "It only matters what I think."

Because adolescence is a time when kids are testing boundaries and discovering themselves, teenagers are especially susceptible to the lure of "I don't care what anyone else thinks of me."  I hear teenagers saying this stuff all the time:

 "I'm going to get this face tattoo and if my boss has a problem with it, then she's shallow and cares too much about appearances."

"If Suzy thinks I'm too snobby then she doesn't have to be hang out with me anymore, nobody's forcing her.  I know I'm a nice person and that's what matters."

"I'm going to take the job at Hooters even though my parents don't want me to.  I don't care what anyone thinks about me; I need a job."

That kind of reasoning is short-sighted, self-centered, and immature.  I love what Dr. Ted Roberts says about maturity.  He wrote, "Maturity is not a vague philosophical concept, but a trained ability to meet the demands of reality.”

Yes.

  • Not getting a face tattoo isn't being a conformist, it's being mature.  Meeting the demands of reality.
  • Caring what Suzy thinks (in order to reconcile a friendship) isn't weak, it's mature.
  • Being nice to someone that you don't like isn't hypocritical, it's mature.
  • Keeping your mouth shut isn't cowardly, it's mature.
  • Listening to your parents advice and preserving your reputation isn't letting other people control you, it's mature.

I have no doubt that people will take the advice "Your reputation matters; you should care what others think of you" too far.  They'll swing wide like so many generations before them and run themselves ragged, thread-bare, trying to get everybody to like them.  They'll make themselves crazy thinking about it, and that will be a tragedy.

We're over-correctors.  We are kids on a balance beam, trying to get to the other side of life uninjured and unembarrassed.  We wobble one way, then the other, trying to find a balance that's sustainable - a way of living that will get us from one side to the other without all the violent back-and-forth.

I think the balance is grace. Grace for ourselves, grace for others. There is no other way.