Thursday, 30 May 2019

In Defence of the Millennials

I’ve been reading a number of articles over the past few months about the “snowflake” generation, the original term for the millennials.

The name was cleverly created by advertising folk to target people in the age range of 22 and 37 and, from that comparatively loose term, comes Generation Snowflake and the later-born Generation Z. 

From what I read - rows over university debates, "safe" spaces, climate change, veganism, you name it, they had a strong view on it - the "snowflakes" appeared to be young people who were very careful to want recognition of their own feelings and needs but would truck no argument about anything or anyone who disagreed with them. 

Put like that, what’s not to find irritating?  

Most of the articles* I’d seen were critical of the group as a whole and that for a start seemed odd. How can you generalise about a generation of young men and women and treat them as if they were all the same? Isn’t that disrespectful? Maybe it was time to look at issues from their point of view and to consider the views of the “other” and reflect on them in a different, non-judgmental way. 

So, considering for myself, I’ve been wondering what’s wrong with being a snowflake? Don’t we love the original snowflake, with each one that falls having an original unique design that will never be replicated? Isn’t that a wonderful analogy of a person? And if a new generation is aspiring to living a life that allows the “uniqueness of the individual”, why are we not applauding and backing them? Why are some of us sighing, pulling faces and trying to absorb them into our way of life, rather than thinking about their desires instead?

It seems to me that we in Britain have been forced into the “one-size fits all” box of industrialisation and we have forgotten what it’s like to be individuals. Our society requires parents to go out to work to pay huge mortgages, bills, holidays and whatever else is required for us in a capitalist society, and that means many children are being institutionalised at a very early age. There are nurseries taking babies from the age of three months. In some society, the idea of removing an infant of that age from the care of its mother would be seen as cruel. 

I'm beginning to believe it’s hard being a millennial. There’s little job stability - that gigging economy causes more stress than you know - and, if they’ve been to university, a lot of debt to pay back. Rent is hugely expensive and mortgages prohibitive so how you they get on the first rung of any ladder without outside help? Maybe the “bleating” that we older adults hear, has a point. Maybe it would be better for us as a society if we were more emotionally attuned to the individual and his or her needs, than we are at present. 

And perhaps, if we disagree with some of their views – I’m in favour of arguing a case, rather than banning my opponent for example – we should try to convince them that there is sometimes a case for reason over emotion or a way to incorporate the two. They, in turn, could teach us about being a little more compassionate.

It would be good if cross-generation conversation could be encouraged so that we gain from the wisdom of all; currently, my readings leave me feeling there’s a desire to create hostility between the age ranges, perhaps to stop us blaming our leaders for the mess in which society seems to be right now.

One of the first millennials I came across described himself as a teenager as a “post-modernist child”. I asked for the definition and he said: “I’ve seen my parents work very, very hard and not get the rewards they deserved and I’m not going to do the same. That makes me post-modernist.” 

The young man rowed back on that a little as he “matured”, but I still admire the original thought. 

I’m going to end this piece with a story about another then 22-year-old millennial working as a journalist who was offered a full-time job – they are very hard to come by – with a top media organisation. He turned it down. I asked him why and he said: “Because I didn’t like the way they treated their older workforce.”

How kind was that? A young man at the start of his career choosing to put his core beliefs ahead of his own personal ambition. 

Put like that, what’s not to like.

By Lulu Sinclair

* A point to be aware of is that newspaper feature articles are often put out there to be controversial and to bring a response from their readership which will vary depending on their audience. So, for example, a left-leaning newspaper  may be more sympathetic to the “snowflake” point of view, whereas the editor with a more right-wing stance may feel his readership would want him to take a more robust approach. 

Photo by Rob Sarmiento on Unsplash

Thursday, 16 May 2019

Busting The Drug Myth

With the appalling increase in incidents of knife crime in the UK in recent years, attention has again been turned on to the efficacy of drug laws, and the need to enforce a more punitive system for the possession and use of illegal drugs.

There has also been more focus on the incidences of cannabis-induced psychosis and fatalities from the use of the “party drug” ketamine.   

While the “Just Say No” campaign is now recognised to have failed dismally, (whether applied to drugs or sexual activity), it has left a residual climate of fear that has prompted the public and politicians to campaign to remove the threat posed by the consumption of drugs by prohibition, rather than by focusing on eradicating the extremely lucrative circulation of drugs by dealers whose trade depends largely on drugs being illegal. 

In recent research by Professor David Nutt, it was revealed that the categorisation of drugs (A-C) did not accurately correlate with the incidents of actual harm these drugs caused and, in fact, by far the most dangerous drug in circulation - both to the consumers themselves and to others - is the legal drug of alcohol.  

The stigma attached to illegal drugs is therefore disproportionate to the real damage caused by them and has created a fear-based response that is not only counterproductive in reducing consumption (prohibition was shown to increase alcohol dependency when applied in the US) but risks actually increasing violence as it actively plays into the hands of the drug cartels.  

The majority of the violence caused by drugs, is not in their consumption but in the safeguarding of the “patches” where they are sold. 

It is here that gangs are formed to protect lucrative deals and expanding these patches now involves the coercion of young children through the notorious “county lines”.   

It also leads to the contamination of drugs because they are cut with cheaper or more potent substances to make them go further and therefore increase profit margins.  

When America banned alcohol, the result was that more people became addicted to whisky than other drinks. The reason for this was because it was stronger in alcohol content than, say, beer so it was easier for dealers to transport, because smaller quantities were needed to create the same effect.
I am not in any way advocating the use of hard drugs or, indeed, the uninformed consumption of any drug (including prescription drugs which, it is now suggested, should carry a health warning) but suggesting funds should  instead be directed towards education and the management of access to drugs that can control both the quality and the quantity of drugs available, and offer appropriate support to those whose develop a dependency. 

This approach is already showing positive results at the Jobcentre Plus, in the London borough of Peckham where young people involved in the drugs trade are being coached and helped with housing and education in order to find work and become self-supporting.   

Just as not everyone who has a drink becomes an alcoholic, many drug users do not become addicted and will choose give up of their own accord when their circumstances change. 

It is now widely accepted that the dependency on drugs, as on any other addictive substance or behaviour, is more to do with the vulnerability of the person concerned than the substance or behaviour itself.Therefore, if we can work therapeutically with those who are susceptible, there is a greater chance that consumption will be reduced.  

It has been observed that in countries where drugs have been legalised there has been a significant drop in violent crime, and many more people - as in Peckham - have been willing to work towards making better choices for themselves.  

It is true to say that, since the beginning of time, man has felt the need at times to mood alter and the more deprived or disconnected the person, the more vulnerable they will be to these temptations. 

It is therefore likely that the poorer and more disaffected members of  society, (and this will, inevitably, include ethnic minorities), will be more likely to accept a “bribe” of cash or the promise of designer trainers, to escape the deprivation and hopelessness of their environment - and this results in further alienation and rejection.  

By this process, we are creating a sub-sector of society and then ostracising that sector for not fitting in.  

However, if we can accept that these people are desperate and deprived - rather than inherently violent and hostile - and work with them through support and education, maybe even with legally controlled provision of drugs where needed, we will begin to eradicate the worldwide violence that is endemic within the drug trade and, perhaps, start to make our streets safer places again.       

Thursday, 2 May 2019

When Living The High Life Gets You Down

The conviction of Anna Sorokin, the woman who conned New York’s high society into believing she was a German heiress, is a great story. If you’re a journalist, that is, rather than a psychotherapist or counsellor. In which case, it’s a very, very sad story.

Anna Sorokin – who went by the name of Anna Delvey – now faces up to 15 years in prison. She’s in her mid-20s and, if sentenced to the maximum term, the former lorry driver’s daughter will be saying goodbye to the remainder of her youth and, arguably, the best time of her life.

During the course of her New York trial, we learned that Anna invented herself through social media and amassed tens – if not hundreds – of thousands of dollars’ worth of debt in pursuit of her life of luxury. She was seen at the best parties; visiting the best places and having the best of times. And we know she was doing this because it was all fully documented via social media.

Except, while the events she attended were real, the person wasn’t. She was made up. And the money she spent was not her money; it belonged to others. 

So how did this happen? What sort of person is prepared to risk their liberty by living a lie “in plain sight”? What may be going on inside to feel the need to go to such lengths to be “out there” to be visible.

Anna, who was born in Russia and went to live in Germany from the age of 16, seems to have had a lot of nerve. She arrived in New York determined to live the dream and, as her defence lawyer explained: “Anna had to fake it until she could make it.”

I understand lawyers have to work with what they’ve got but I’m astonished at that defence and, in a way, that it’s no longer so astonishing. It’s almost looked on as an admirable quality, rather than one of which to be a little ashamed. 

Was Anna not simply doing what everyone else would have done if they could? Was she narcissistic with a sense of entitlement or was she delusional? Or was it none of the above, just a determination to be at the top of the capitalistic tree, where so many other people seemed to be having a good time. Could it be that our western society is collectively looking for a quick fix? 

In the comparatively few years since it started up, social media seems to have morphed from being a great way of connecting with people to something rather more insidious. People’s posts on Facebook are not inclined to suggest life isn’t that great - quite the opposite - and it’s almost as though someone’s living a parallel life. One exciting and vibrant on-screen while, off-air, life’s so much more mundane.

And, if observing your Facebook friends having so much more fun than you is not enough to make you feel a bit low, log on to Instagram where you’ll find even more to envy at just the swipe of the screen. Parties, pools, yachts, jewellery and glamour, glamour, glamour – it’s all there. 

No wonder Anna came up with her plan. And she’s not the only one. If you haven’t seen the Netflix documentary on the Fyre Festival that never was, I urge you to watch it. It’s a tale of how hundreds of young music-loving adults people were fooled into handing over great sums of cash for the experience of a lifetime that didn’t happen. Even those people who were unknowingly involved in setting up the “experience” were duped into believing it was possible. Unbelievable, and yet so believable at the time of happening.

What social media – with “old school” media playing catch up via digital means – has done brilliantly is tapped into our natural fear of missing out. Facebook and Instagram (other social platforms are available…) show the “other” doing something far more exciting than we are and, if we don’t take up the invitation, we’ll be missing out. We experienced it as children and were taught – either through good-enough parents or learning our own lessons – that it was not always so. Nowadays, we are being bombarded with images that tell us it WAS always so and if we’re not in, we are so definitely out, out, out.

It’s quite heartening, in a strange way, to discover we are not the “cool” and cynical people we imagine ourselves to be and we are capable of succumbing to our childhood state in which we accept unquestioningly.

Encouragingly, this herd mentality aspect of social media is now being questioned, with Danish psychologist Svend Brinkmann in his book, The Joy of Missing Out, encouraging people to disengage and live a more "moderate" life. 

Anna’s story is not new. People have conned – and been conned – throughout history. But the scam has usually only become known to a limited number of people. 

However, with the every-day prevalence of social media, what makes this so extraordinary is that you and your activities become known to millions. And, because of the huge influence (“influencers” is the term given to those people who make a living from their glamorous online postings) that social media has on our every day life, maybe it’s time we wised up. 

I once saw a keyring that said: “I’m not easy but I can tricked”. It made me smile. Maybe now's the time for a little less laughter and a bit more healthy scepticism.  

By: Lulu Sinclair

Photo by Elena de Soto on Unsplash