Octo Observations: ME versus WE

Something has been niggling my brain of late. I can’t stay silent any longer. Here goes: Being a chronologically certifiable old(er) lady, I realize that there are many fascinating topics to explore. One is the switch from WE to ME in today’s generational approach to life. Today, it feels as if the emphasis is on ME not WE.

Why do I think this? Because each day I seem to encounter an example of ME in action. This is an observation rather than a criticism. It is a fact of life. ME first through a swinging door, ME first into traffic lane on busy freeways, and so forth. This morning, I had a marvelous conversation with a dear friend who happens to be our licensed personal trainer. For the past many years, she has come faithfully to our house to work twice a week with my husband and me to keep us moving, fit, limber, and flexible as possible. She also is on staff at a local university and leads workout classes. She meets students from all walks of life. I love her. She has become my “borrowed” daughter. She helps keep me from getting old and boring, and we have great chats. Today’s was particularly interesting.

“Where does all this ME stuff come from?” I asked. To which my friend replied, “Oh, Joy, it is all out there on the internet with Instagram, Facebook, Snapchat…young people taking selfies and posting dozens of pictures of themselves looking as glamorous as possible.” She proceeded to share a true story of watching a young student, fashionably attired in a perky, sexy workout outfit, walking around the university gym with her cell phone, posing while taking numerous pictures of herself. Good grief! According to my friend, this is not a one-time occurrence. Rather it is frequent, and pervasive. Why was I shocked? Well, I was because it seems utterly self-indulgent, self-centered, and above all, a glorious waste of time.

Apparently, the reason for all these pictures is emphasis on ME. So many young people today in their late teens or early twenties are obsessed with the internet, with presenting themselves as perenially gorgeous creatures, documenting every activity they enjoy each day. Truly, we understand this is a sweeping statement, because each of us knows many young folks who are deeply committed to their studies, to learning, achieving and preparing themselves for the adult world. We also know young people who successfully keep a balance in their lives between learning and partying. That is as it should be, right? That is how we raised our children, and that is how I believe our children are raising theirs…but evidently, not all follow this formula.

My friend says that she blames the internet and smart phones for this preoccupation with “self.” She says she even knows adults who plaster pictures of themselves all over their Facebook pages. I do, too. But honestly, most of my age group who have Facebook use it to show grandbaby pictures, lovely sunsets or to share memories of trips to distant lands. Truth be told, the older we get, the less interested we are in documenting our own fading looks.

It is no secret or surprise that times have changed since my youth. Dramatically. And mostly, lots of changes have been positive. We have better ways of treating and curing cancer, warding off tooth decay, helping people with mental illness and depression and sending rockets to planets in outer space. But we have also unleashed a monster with 24/7 media coverage, chat rooms, tweeting or whatever else is available. I pride myself in being able to email, text and use my cell phone. And that lovely Nikon camera that I gave my husband several years ago has become a “fossil,” just because we rely on our iPhones to take pictures. Instant results, instant images, and instant gratification, plus instant messaging to family and friends.

I believe that our personal “filters” are askew. Instead of sitting down, writing a thoughtful letter, we pop off a text or email that zooms into the recipient’s hands in a flash. Writing a letter requires concentration, thought and careful attention. Or at least, I think it does. When I write a thank you note on pretty stationery, I feel I owe it to the recipient and to the costly paper to take extra pains with my words. I don’t want to write something I don’t mean because it cannot be deleted or erased. Crossing out words looks tacky.

Just the mere mention of writing a thank you note evokes another thought about “ME” versus “WE.” In the “olden days,” we all learned how to write letters to far away relatives. No one had another alternative, except the telephone, which was expensive. My mother was a stickler about my writing thank you notes as soon as I received a gift. And when my husband and I were married, she told me to write ten notes a day as wedding presents arrived. She gave me a book to record all those lovely items, and I still have it. We had a large wedding, and to my knowledge every single person who sent a gift to us received a personal, handwritten note….and god forbid it should sound like any other note! I tried to make each one suit the person who sent it by mentioning something relevant and meaningful. Each note took about fifteen minutes to write. And to this day, every note I write takes equally that long.

As years have passed, most of us older folks have noticed that so many young people do NOT write a note or say “thank you.” I can never figure out why, nor can I justify this basic lack of good manners. Luckily this is not a huge problem in our family, but it does happen. One of my daughters loves to remind me that “we were not allowed to go out and play until all our birthday or Christmas thank you notes were written, addressed, stamped, and ready for the mail!” True…but, as it turns out, these days we older folks are grateful for an email or a thank you text from our youngest ones. We have modified our expectations.

I cannot help but think of one dear friend of mine whose husband died last year. He was very well known, very well loved, and their large church was packed to the rafters with friends and associates who attended the memorial service. As a result, there were countless expressions of sympathy to my widowed friend. Being of the WE generation, she spent months writing beautiful notes to each person who gave a remembrance to her beloved husband. That, to me, is the ultimate example of grace and gratitude. Incidentally, she does know how to email and text, has a smart phone, an Apple watch bought by her kids. She is up to speed. She does not, however, do FB, Instagram or watch much TV. She is a quintessential WE person in all she says and does. I love and admire her.

The facts are on the table. Life is all about change. “As the World Turns” (for years a popular TV soap opera that amused me while I fed our babies) keeps going, fads fade, and with luck, one day the ME generation will refocus its energies. We older folks must keep connections with our young ones strong as possible, and we must do our best to plant seeds of character and decorum that will sprout and flourish. We must dispense unconditional love. Sometimes it takes patience. But my hopes and prayers are that the pendulum will swing back to a more moderate place. That “selfies” will become tiresome, that Facebook will not be an outlet of self-absorption, and the fresh vibrance of youth will be channeled into realizing that WE make the world go round, and WE together can accomplish peace, goodness, and kindness with each other and all those around us. Life is a treasured gift; give yourselves permission to live it the best way possible.

Joy Nevin is the author of Joy of Retirement – Live, Love, and Learn. Click to buy on Amazon.

Top photo: Bigstock