‘Me generation’ needs to forget completely about the ‘Me.’

With housing prices doing what they’re doing, how will young people ever afford to buy a house?  How can they raise children?  Beset by such impossibilities, how will they find sufficient security to even get married? 

The answer to such questions is becoming grimly clear.  People now in their 20s probably won’t be able to do any of these things, and by the time they hit age 30 they are beginning to realize it.

This quandary of today’s 30-year-olds is the subject of a play gathering much attention at the current Fringe Festival in Toronto.  It’s called Talk Thirty To Me.  Its author, playwright Oonagh Duncan, created it after examining demographic studies and making scores of personal interviews with people entering their 30s.  Since she’s 29 herself, her own experience informs the play as well.  Her findings not only appear through the characters in her play. StatsCan figures are also flashed on a screen as the play unfolds:  “The average 30-year-old has had 7.5 jobs… has an average income of $29,013 … carries between $1,500 and $19,000 in debt.”

One interview typified them all.  “I just changed careers and went back to school,” said the 30-year-old male. “I got no house, no wife, no kids, no car, and 71 cents in my bank account.”

What makes this much worse, says Duncan, is the fact that these people at 20 had been led to believe that when they reached 30 they would have all those lovely things which their parents had when they reached 30—professional career, marriage, car, kids, suburban house, dog, travel, cottage, dinners in fashionable restaurants.  The children of those same fortunate people now reach 30 and suddenly discover they have none of the things they had so confidently expected.  Moreover, they aren’t likely ever to have them.

A current book, like the play, depicts their predicament.  It’s by psychologist-author Jean Twenge and its gargantuan title tells the story: Generation Me: Why Today’s Young Americans Are More Confident, Assertive, Entitled—and More Miserable Than Ever Before.

The crucial question is: What can these young people do? If their parents can’t be of any help to them, what’s the possibility of my generation helping them?

In a way, our experience was the reverse of theirs.  They expected to have all these fine material benefits and didn’t get them.  We did not, even remotely, expect to get them, and to our delight and astonishment, we did get a great many of them.  But for us, those benefits often came much later in life, certainly not by 30, more frequently by 50 or even 60.  Moreover, we never really thought of ourselves as part of a “generation.”  We identified more with our profession or trade; we were plumbers or doctors, or salesmen or (as my trade then called itself) “newspapermen.”  Or with our city—we were Calgarians, or Winnipeggers.  There were no “forties people” as there would one day be “sixties people.”  Yet many of us did sense once in our lives a point of deep disillusionment.  Our dreams for life, modest though they were not going to come true.

It hit me at 24 when I found myself, a fine Toronto boy, “stuck” as I saw it, in Winnipeg. So much for being a “great newspaperman.”  At that point, there came a kind of inner surrender.

It was connected, I confess, to an inner acceptance of God in Christ. You had to say to yourself: “What I’ve got is what I’m going to have, probably permanently. Get used to it. Live for today. Forget what the future holds. Take no thought, as the Bible says, for the morrow. Do the best job you can, and be thankful for it.”

So I did, and an odd thing happened. It was as though a great burden fell from my back.  Very soon, I came to love everything—family, work, town, friends, the world, the church.  And it would not have happened, had I not been driven to that point of despair.

Maybe, therefore, we should hold out real hope for our 30-year-olds.  Some will make the amazing discovery: That the only hope for the Me-Generation is to forget completely about the “Me.”