Stoning Our Offspring

Jerry Walls

As a converstion starter, I have proposed in several contexts that one measure of the difference between babyboomers and the current generation can be gained by comparing the Rolling Stones' hit "Under My Thumb" with the recent hit "Self Esteem" by The Offspring. In the latter tune, the line "I'm just a sucker with no self esteem" frequently recurs as the song explores feelings of inadequacy and low sense of self worth in the realm of relationships. By contrast, the Stones' tune exudes a sense of confidence, success and even dominance.

Moreover, the Offspring number is not an isolated instance. Rather, it is perhaps the most notable of a genre of hit songs which have been popular in the past few years. Beck has a song in which a recurrent line is "I'm a loser baby, so why don't you kill me." Silver Chair does a song called "Freak" which similarly expresses feelings of rejection and inferiority. It's hard to imagine Mick Jagger or any other prominent rocker of the previous generation intoning such sentiments. Mick may complain that he can't get any satisfaction, but the problem is not with his sense of self worth.

Now admittedly, the recent songs I have mentioned may be intended satirically or ironically. And perhaps they are also a reflection of our psychologically oriented culture which encourages the expression of negative feelings. But it is still remarkable that so many songs about negative self-image have struck such a chord with the current generation.

In one conversation in which I proposed my thesis, I received an interesting response from a college age student. With a bit of bite in his voice, he said: "This is just a stab in the dark, but is it possible that our generation is so preoccupied with self-esteem because your generation was so self-absorbed that it never took time to invest in us?"

That remark reminded me of another song in the self-esteem genre, namely, "Father of Mine" by Everclear. That song tells the story of a boy abandoned by his father and the resulting psychological and emotional repercussions.

It is tempting to dismiss the suggestion of my college age friend, as well as the song just mentioned, as instances of "Generation X" trying to shift the blame for their problems onto someone else. And perhaps there is some truth in this. But I also think there is something to my young friend's observation.

Every generation needs to build on the the efforts of previous ones and each needs instruction and encouragement in order to do it well. This is a reminder that true success is much more than an individual enterprise and that we do not truly succeed if we do not enable our successors to flourish. And we cannot do this if we do not invest the time and effort necessary to help others achieve their potential.


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