A Spoiled Generation?

Over at the Telegraph, Jenny McCartney talks about something I’ve been thinking about lately,

In the years since the Second World War, the bulk of us have gradually become accustomed to the steady decline of personal risk. The absence of war on our soil, the advances of medicine, and the extensive establishment of a “health and safety” culture have all contributed to the somewhat complacent sense that — barring some aberrant event — we can expect, along with our counterparts in the rest of the developed world, to live comfortably into old age.

Last week a number of widely publicised stories managed, in their separate ways, to rock that assumption. The floods in Australia — regarded by many Britons as a destination that almost guarantees a sunnier, more relaxed way of life — were ferocious in their intensity. The unforgettable picture of a vulnerable family of three unsteadily poised on top of their car, as brown floodwaters surged around them, was sent across the world: it seemed to encapsulate how swiftly a force of nature can snap its fingers and shred human certainties. The mother and son from that snapshot survived; the father was swept away.

In quite a different context, a joyful Irish bride, Michaela McAreavey, went on honeymoon with her new husband to a luxurious five-star hotel in Mauritius. She decided that she would like some biscuits with her tea, and went back to the room to fetch them, whereupon she was murdered, apparently after disturbing a robbery. Her bridal flowers were still in bloom at the altar of the church where she was married.

In Britain, the parents of Lana Ameen, a formerly healthy three-year-old girl who died suddenly from swine flu, released a picture of their small daughter in the final hours of her life. Her father and mother, a doctor and a nurse, did so in an effort to urge the Government to vaccinate all under-fives against the disease.

For most of us, the individuals caught up in these incidents will probably feel all too familiar; at the same time, their stories are unusual enough to be deeply shocking. Yet not so many years ago, the sudden death of both children and adults was almost commonplace: the randomness of fate was everywhere, assisted by war, disaster and disease. My grandfather lost two sisters to diphtheria, and my father a brother to scarlet fever. The Blitz, in London and other major cities, destroyed entire streets in a matter of moments. The awareness of the fragility of life was written into the very fabric of one’s existence, as it still is in many developing countries.

McCartney goes on to talk about the qualities that make a hero, but heroes are rare. I tend to wonder more if the incredible prosperity our generation has grown up with has made us into a “silver spoon in our mouth generation.” We have had it so good, for so long in this country compared to previous generations of Americans.

Think back, for example, to the WW2 generation compared to kids the same age today. They suffered through the Depression, which despite all the rhetoric you hear today, made the economic downturn we’re suffering through today look like a birthday party. Then there was WW2, which made Iraq/Afghanistan look like a trip to the movies in comparison. There were no computers, no MP3s, or microwaves, and television was just starting to take off in the forties. The poorest Americans today have a lifestyle that was superior to that of everyone who wasn’t obscenely rich back then. Our “great challenges” would have been laughed at by most previous generations of Americans.

There’s a lot to be said for having an easy life, but as we’ve seen with rich, spoiled kids, who get everything they want, having it TOO EASY can be harmful. Have we gotten to a point where we all have it so easy that many of us are getting spoiled? If we’re honest, then we have to admit that, yes, we’ve gotten a little spoiled as a nation.

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