mfcoolsurfin the enc

Closing the Teach For America Blogging Gap
Mar 21 2011

Exceptionalism, Cynicism, and the American Way

I was listening to NPR on the way home (yeah, I’m old, get over it) and heard talk about Libya.  And it got me thinking about us (those of us who are early/mid-twenties).  I realized how terribly exciting and depressing our generation actually is. Let me explain…

All our lives we’ve been told we can do anything.  President? Piece of cake.  Want to be a Harvard Law grad? easy.  Want that perfect marriage with your Disney prince and a happily ever after? you deserve it, girl! And it’s gotten us to the point of what some social commentators call “the exceptionalist generation,” meaning: yes, this dream is hard, but I am an exceptional person so I’ll make it even though most won’t. Our parents, teachers, and media messaging have fed us this mantra our whole lives.  We all think this. Don’t deny it; if you’re in TFA, you are more than likely a prime example of said exceptionalism. This, to me, sounds like blind optimism at its finest.

We are also a generation of cynics.  How could we not be? Every resource that connects us to the rest of the world, from our phone, computer, tv, magazine, newspaper, twitter account, etc, shows us just how awful this world can be.  And it desensitizes us from everything!  Revolution in Libya (that the US has entered, wtf?)? meh.  Another kid raped and murdered? please, sounds like a bad CSI episode. Not only that, but we can hide any true emotion we have behind our digital facade (I’m not discounting myself from this).  And we use this facade to hurt, because it’s a hell of a lot easier to type a flippant remark than to say one in public.

Where exactly does our defining characteristic fall between this optimism and cynicism? We’re not expected to be adult, but we’re also looked down on because of it. We’re the generation who is not a girl, but definitely not yet a woman (thanks, britney, I’ll always love you). So who are we, Gen Y? And where do I fit in with all this?

I’ll admit, I have this supposed “exceptionalism” disease, as well as a healthy streak of cynicism.  But I think that, my sense of exceptionality aside, this is exactly what will help us shape our (and my) future, if we (I) let it.  We’re confident! Exciting! Tech savvy! We also have healthy doses of realism – as mentioned above, it takes a lot to shock most people our age.  And what combination could be better? To have the optimism of a cocky, five-year-old king of the playground with the cold cynicism of a jaded businessman is a powerful weapon in our already-stockpiled arsenal of youth.

I propose, and challenge, whoever reads this sad and silly blog to use these powers for good. Take your exceptionalism, for example, and let it help you found a non profit.  Then, let our generation’s cynicism help you actually get your goals accomplished, because that dream shit doesn’t exactly dole out money. Let’s make a positive change in our world. Both these attitudes of ours will help us in our journey of defining ourselves and, hopefully, shape the world around us to how we know it’s supposed to be.  Let’s show the establishment that we DO have a voice, that we DO care about social justice, and that, by God, we can also get our exceptional asses into gear because we KNOW how hard we have to work to git ‘er done. We’ve been exposed to how hard the world is all our lives from the comfort of our computer screens, remember? It’s time to actually do something about it.

Over and out. Time to make some awesomely tasty fajitas (I’m not being exceptionalist, I really do make delicious fajitas).

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