This article is a reflection on the audio discussion by Abraham Verghese and Denise Pope entitled, "How Do You Want to Be When You Grow Up?" Click image to listen.
"Today young people are trying to balance the question of “What do I want to do when I grow up?” with the question of “Who and how do I want to be in the world?” Physician and writer Abraham Verghese and education researcher Denise Pope argue that’s because the way we educate for success doesn’t support the creation of full, well-rounded humans. And they see the next generation challenging our cultural view of success by insisting that a deeply satisfying life is one filled with presence, vulnerability, and care for others."
Kind of long to listen to but an interesting discussion if you're into education-related and mental health topics. They raise some excellent points.
Two quick points before I get to the real point that I want to make.
First, I think they started out a little off-base by talking about the achievement culture and how we celebrate or emphasize achievement today unlike in the past. The woman talks about trophy cases being the first thing you see when you walk into a school, report cards proudly displayed on refrigerators, mentioning honor students and academic achievers in newspapers, parents asking their children how they did on the test they just had, etc. But the thing is, it’s always been this way. This is not new. In fact, I think there’s even less emphasis on some of those things today than there was a generation ago.
I don’t think it’s wrong to celebrate real achievement. Humans are hardwired to compete. When you take that competition away and recognize everybody for everything, it’s meaningless and demotivating. You need look no further than any socialist country to see how that plays out. I would even go so far as to say that participation trophies and communally telling all children that they are special from a very young age is a big part of the problem that we’re seeing today because those kids become young adults and their whole worldview of themselves is quickly shattered by reality in the workplace and in adult society when they realize they’re not special at all. They’re just like everybody else. (Note: Moms, dads and grandparents are always encouraged to tell their kids they’re special, however, because to them they are; it’s true.)
So that’s the first point.
Second, they talked about the survey where they asked both kids and their parents what their success indicators are. The kids tended to say things like money, grades, and the college they go to. The parents said things like relationships, community service, and overall happiness. Again, I don’t think this is an indictment of the younger generation. I think this is a normal response based on maturity and wisdom as we get older. Young people simply don’t have the breadth of experience in life to appreciate the value of the more relational things. Their world is very limited because they’re kids and it’s what their brains can process.
Ok, now the main point that I see. I realize this will not be well received in Big Education and progressive circles, but it needs to be said.
The Real Problem
We know kids and young adults are anxious, depressed, and even suicidal at unprecedented rates. That’s a fact.
We can talk day in and day out about how to reform our education system and our culture so that children grow up to be happy, fulfilled, well-adjusted individuals, but none of those changes, however logical and well-intentioned, will amount to much because, for some 50 years now, our education system in particular and our country and culture in general has been increasingly denying, abandoning, disassociating, and lately erasing our Judeo-Christian foundations and values. We now have an entire generation or more of people whose lives are built on nothing — foundations of sand instead of rock. And we wonder why people today have more of everything (wealth, food, education, you name it) than any people literally in the history of the world and yet we are unhappier than we’ve ever been. It takes more than tweaking a pedagogy to fix that.
When you take a fundamental belief in God as described in the Judeo-Christian Scriptures out of the equation, you remove the bedrock of absolute truth. What you are left with is relative truth. People and societies cannot stand on relative truth. Relative truth is not supported by anything; it’s like it’s suspended in mid air, like kicking out the legs of a table. It doesn’t work. What’s true for me may not be true for you, and what certain groups in society think is true you may disagree with. It is by definition divisive. Conflict reigns. It’s chaotic for a society, undermines civilization, and is unsustainable.
But more than that, at the individual level people cannot base their lives simply on what feels right for them and nothing else. In the end, it’s completely unfulfilling because it’s all inwardly focused or on temporal things, and the pressure is always on us to make ourselves happy and find our own fulfillment, and we’re not wired that way. So people will continue to search for that next best thing that will make them happy and they will never find it.
We can’t be our own gods, which is what this amounts to. God is God, whether we acknowledge him or not, and people are made to be in relationship with God. (Not “religion,” relationship.)
Our founders understood this. They knew our nation could not survive in the absence of God. And yet for 50 years we’ve been trying to do exactly that. Where that’s gotten us is self evident.
Our kids are dying. They’re starved for finding meaning and connection and they’re looking in all kinds of bad places.
So what can we do?
Update the education system? Will that fix it? I don’t think so.
We need to give our children and our country back to God and stop ignoring him. Sounds crazy, right. Bring God back into the public discourse.
As a parent, the best thing YOU (not the school) can do to ensure YOUR children’s long-term happiness and fulfillment in life is to have and introduce them to a genuine, personal relationship with God. The one true God. The God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. That God. That will be the foundation (absolute, unchanging truth) on which they will base all the other decisions of their lives with total faith, hope, love and confidence. And without fear, anxiety, or feeling alone, worthless, unloved or not enough — no matter what their circumstances.
“Anyone who listens to my teaching and follows it is wise, like a person who builds a house on solid rock. Though the rain comes in torrents and the floodwaters rise and the winds beat against that house, it won’t collapse because it is built on bedrock. But anyone who hears my teaching and doesn’t obey it is foolish, like a person who builds a house on sand. When the rains and floods come and the winds beat against that house, it will collapse with a mighty crash.” Matthew 7:24-27
This is but one of many examples in both the Old and New Testaments where we are warned of the dangers of abandoning God.
People in true relationship with God have tremendous inner peace because of words like these:
Joshua 1:9 "Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go."
Isaiah 41:10 "Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand."
Deuteronomy 31:6 "Be strong and courageous. Do not fear or be in dread of them, for it is the Lord your God who goes with you. He will not leave you or forsake you."
Zephaniah 3:17 "The Lord your God is in your midst, a mighty one who will save; he will rejoice over you with gladness; he will quiet you by his love; he will exult over you with loud singing.”
Matthew 28:20 "Teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age."
John 14:27 “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.”
Hebrews 13:5 "Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have, for he has said, 'I will never leave you nor forsake you.'"
Romans 8:38-39 "For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord."
[Fun Fact: The phrase “Do not be afraid” is repeated, by some counts, 365 times in the Bible. Roughly one for every day of the year.]
John 11:25 “Jesus said to her, "I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live.”
John 6:35 “Then Jesus declared, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.”
John 14:1 “Don’t let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God, and trust also in me.”
John 15:4 “Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.”
John 3:14-15 “Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes may have eternal life in him.”
John 3:16 “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”
That’s powerful, life-changing, life-giving stuff, unchanged for thousands of years, the cadence of which literally resonates with our human being. Nothing else compares. And it’s so easy to do and it doesn’t cost a dime. Try it. For yourself and your kids.
As a nation, we turn our backs on God at our peril. As individuals, we are lost without him. Don't believe me? Just look around. Lots of hollowed-out lives and walking dead. And only getting worse.
The guy in the podcast quotes this poem:
"i carry your heart with me (i carry it in my heart)"
For me and any Christian, this is the essence of being reborn in Christ as foretold by the prophet Ezekiel 600 years before Jesus:
"I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh."
And, yes, it really does happen like this.