Thursday, 30 May 2013

Standing on the Shoulders of Giants

Les Pickett, the CE of the Pacific Rim Consulting Group, posted on a LinkedIn group I participate in recently, an interesting response to a question. The question asked the group for opinions as to whether Gen Y were talented or felt they were 'entitled'. Les posted six quick quotes, as follows:
  • "Millennials are a generation mostly of teens and 20 somethings known for constantly holding up cameras, taking pictures of themselves and posting them online. They are narcissistic, overconfident, entitled and lazy. Their self-centredness could bring about the end of civilization as we know it …. Or they’re the new greatest generation". Joel Stein, Time Magazine, 20 May 2013
  • "This is the Y generation, the most self absorbed, opinionated, pampered, cocksure group ever let loose on God’s earth”. Melbourne Herald, Sunday 24 February 2013
  • "The world is passing through troublous times. The young people of today think of nothing but themselves. They have no reverence for parents or old age. They are impatient on all restraint. They talk as if they know everything and what passes for wisdom with us is foolishness with them. As for the girls they are forward, immodest and unladylike in speech, behaviour and dress". From a sermon by Peter The Hermit 1274AD
  • "What is happening to our young people? They disrespect their elders, they disobey their parents. They ignore the law. They riot in the streets inflamed with wild notions. Their morals are decaying. What is to become of them?" Plato, 429-347BC
  • "Our youth now love luxury. They have bad manners, contempt for authority; they show disrespect for elders and love chatter in place of exercise. They no longer rise when elders enter the room. They contradict their parents, chatter before company, gobble up the dainties at the table and terrorize their teachers". Attributed to Socrates, 469-399BC
  • "I see no hope for the future of our people if they are dependent on the frivolous youth of today, for certainly all youth are reckless beyond words. When I was young we were taught to be discreet and respectful of elders but the present youth are exceedingly disrespectful and impatient of restraint". Hesiod, circa 750-650BC
What a lovely collection of views! While I am sure that many of you will have seen the Socrates and Peter quotes before via email, we should take note. The difference between youth & age is sometimes not wisdom, but merely the perspective of seeing patterns repeat, and a lack of attention to history.

With each generation we think we are discovering the 'truth', yet - unless we deliberately study history - we are destined to parrot the same ideas, again and again. The trick is to give ourselves a new narrative, and remember that as "we stand on the shoulders of giants" (John of Salisbury, citing Bernard of Chartres, 1159 - and made famous first by Newton and secondly by Google Scholar), so each successive generation should see further than the one before. I believe that strange and mythical beast goes by the name of 'progress'.

I lecture young people, and I think they are as much seekers of purpose as I was at the same age. Trying their best, making their way, looking for some method to contribute and be worthy. Yes, they are a bit more self-absorbed than older people: it is pretty much where we were at the same age. But they also will collectively accomplish great things, and they will stand on the shoulders of giants. If they study the patterns of history, they, as their perspective lengthens, won't be hoisted by their own petard in making generalisations about youth.

Hopefully each time we read bumpf in the media about how narcissistic young people are, we will all remember these age-old statements and read media 'drama' for what it is - sensationalism. Then ignore it, and enjoy the wonders yet to come.

Reference: Pickett, Les (29 May 2013) LinkedIn Collaborative Conversations Group: Gen Y: entitled or talented? What's your opinion? Retrieved 29 May 2013 from


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