Generation Shock 8

Of all the places I’ve ever been, the greatest culture shock I ever experienced was in Taiwan. 

I’m not saying that culture shock is a bad thing, I’m just saying it’s shocking. It does not matter how prepared you think you are to soak in and learn from people in a new environment, when the natives don’t speak your language (better said, when you don’t speak theirs), if feels as though you might as well be visiting another planet.

One morning, I decided to play a mean trick. I put on my favorite tee-shirt and casually strolled the campus at Fu-Jen University in Taipei. The rubbernecking and gawking stares I got were outrageously funny. It was as if I were a walking billboard. People would interrupt their Tai-Chi routine as I walked by to try make sense of two white, boldface words inscribed on a black background across my chest:

luei d’algos

That’s a like from Euripides Media, in Greek, which loosely translates into English as “No Pain, No Gain”  (better expressed in Spanish as “Vale la Pena.”). Of course, the words above are transliterated with Roman letters. The letters on the tee-shirt were in Attic Greek.

Those who were accustomed to seeing things written in English, even if they did not speak English, wouldn’t have given a Nike or a Coca-Cola tee-shirt a second glance. But Greek! I got them to double take with my Greek tee-shirt. I was so mischievously proud of myself that day. I gave the native their own culture shock.

I had my second biggest culture shock of all time not in some foreign country, but here in my own, and I’m still having it. In someways, I find it easier to relate to the Chinese in Taiwan or Epic tales of Ancient Greece written by Homer than I do with up and coming hipsters here in the US. It’s as though we don’t speak the same language anymore.

My parents are Baby-Boomers, I am a Gen-Xer (Generation X-Wing to be more precies, because I reached the so-called age of the use of reason around the time I saw Luke Skywalker swinging across the core of the Death Star with Princess Lea in his arms at the drive-in movie). They call the next generation, after mine, Gen-Y or Millennials. I call them Generation Shock (Born into the world of Shock and Awe).

When I talk with parents who have kids in high school or college, I am always met with the same concerns. Parents are shocked at the degree to which they cannot relate to their kids.

“We never questioned what we were told,” they tell me (Really? Seriously? I doubt that.). “My kids come home from school and ask, what’s wrong with gay people? Why can’t two people be allowed to love one another?”

“Why is the Church so oppressive? Why do they still deny women their rights?”

“Why can’t a woman do what she wants with her body? Why is the Church so anti-choice?

“Why are Catholics against universal healthcare when they say they are pro-life? That’s hypocritical.”

“Why is Christianity against science? Evolution is a proven fact. The universe started with the Big Bang. Science can prove those things. But you insist on believing in talking serpents, and hell, and apparitions, and things you cannot prove.”

Before you know it, your 15-year-old declares himself an atheist. Your daughter starts advocating the legalization of marijuana. The college tuition you are paying supports these ideas that you are opposed to. And sending the to a Catholic University does not seem to make much of a difference in that regard.

No matter what you teach them at home, the world today is going to feed them these ideas. How does one cope with the reality?

I’m afraid that the answer does not just reside in how we educate our kids. I believe we need to educate ourselves. We don’t need to throw our values system out the window and compromise our principles in order to save our children. However, in order to be able to dialogue with them, we first need to speak their language. Then we can help them to understand ours.

Education is never just about transmitting information. It rests on the premise that the person you are trying to educate has the natural ability to “get what you are saying” and find it reasonable. This is where I believe we have the upper-hand over “Generation Shock.” The information age just feeds people sound-bytes that seem convincing at first. Sound bytes that encourage people to think for themselves, to think logically and critically — but that’s all. It does not explain things logically, or teach critical thinking skills beyond just “question everything you’ve ever been told.”

I find that when I use logic and critical thinking skills, young people start to take me seriously and begin to question themselves. They are not accustomed to actually hearing your typical dogmatic, narrow-minded, papist, like myself, explain himself in terms they haven’t even heard from their secular-minded heroes. They start to realize that in order to understand my Greek tee-shirt, they need to double-take and admit to themselves that maybe they are the ones who don’t get it. To find out what it is that maybe they don’t get, they need to shift their paradigms, open their minds, and ask, “What is it that I’m not getting?”

Both sides have to be willing to wade in the chilly waters of culture shock until our body temperatures adjust and we can explore the questions of our changing culture together.

People naturally want to relate to and understand one another.


  1. Children and young adults coming through education systems today are taught the skills of critical thinking and they also learn to question everything in the name of learning. This is such a good thing. Our son studied philosophy in secondary school, and this in turn brought forth many questions about society, faith and religion.
    I think also, that if parents don’t truly live what they believe, chances are, their children will follow suit, and the Christian beliefs are watered down gradually with the passing of each generations.
    I did enjoy watching the first video clip: The children in Sweden are encouraged to be free thinkers, to weigh up the pros and cons in their own minds and then to come to a conclusion. Seems to me that God is mentioned, (and god is discussed too- ‘I think god is a force…) Their responses also reveal a Relativist position. A Relativist society. ‘ I believe in God, but others maybe not’.
    Their answers reflect the way that they’ve been educated and how they approach learning. Very interesting indeed!

    • The Swedish children in the video were impressively articulate for their age. It’s a reflection of an educated society, and a reflection of how their parents think.

      Critical thinking is a good thing. More often than not, however, I find that people play what I call the “critical thinking card” without knowing how to play it. It seems typical for those who are too quick to throw the critical thinking card to assume the one they are talking to never checks their own assumptions. It usually takes less than three interchanges in a discussion before they realize they’ve made an embarrassing mistake, when you turn the tables on them make them realize that they are the ones who have not considered other possible alternatives to what they think, several important implications that follow from what they think, contradictions entailed in their way of thinking, other relevant issues that bear on their assertions, etc…

      I usually find that you do youngsters who consider themselves critical thinkers a favor by taking them to task when they throw the critical thinking card. That goes for many adults too.

      It is good when schools teach critical thinking skills, as long as they are not selling their students short when they teach it. Otherwise, all they are doing is warping their minds and hardening them into skeptics.

  2. Wow, James: talk about being about on the same wavelength!
    I wrote about almost the very same thing this morning, albeit from a slightly more secular viewpoint.

    This may go long, so I’ll apologize in advance:

    Our schools have largely become Inculcation Centers, not Educational ones. It’s not every school..and it’s not every teacher…but I’m willing to wager it’s the majority of ’em.

    Parental rights in what their children should/shouldn’t learn is being taken from them…and mystifyingly parents aren’t fighting back. Such passivity is frightening, at least to me.

    As a father of two boys (11 & 13), I know fighting against this tide isn’t easy yet it’s more necessary than ever. EASY QUESTION: We wouldn’t let the school cafeteria poison our children’s FOOD, so why are we allowing the school Administration to poison their minds & hearts?

    I have worded that question that very way to friends, co-workers, and neighbors for years now; the looks and reactions I get are amazing. The same people who say “Of COURSE I wouldn’t let them poison my child’s food!!” are the same ones throwing their hands in the air and saying “But I work: what can I do…?” when they complain about what their child was taught that week.

    I’ll tell you what we do: the same thing in both instances, regardless of the repercussions.

    Home-schooling our boys has been extremely difficult, expensive (only one income), exhausting …and the only choice we could make with a clear conscience.
    This isn’t rocket science. We either keep feeding our children to the ravenous beast called the Public School System, year after year, or we don’t.

    Not much of a choice to me.

    • No matter what choices you have to make, parenting is always a difficult task, but even more so today in this aggressively secular and relativistic world.

      Thanks for taking the time to elaborate your view here, JTR. More people need to see this, if only to be assured that they are not the only ones fighting this battle.

      Keep up the good fight, Culture Warrior!

  3. “Like” might not be the right word for such a somber, thoughtful post, but I am glad you talked about it and articulated it so well. We need to have this conversation, and to wake people up to what is happening in the culture around us. We as a Catholic-American have been too complacent, I think, and unwilling to engage. Afraid to be thought of as different. We all want so badly to fit in, even when the fitting in is harming us and our children.

    • We Christians have always been in the world, but not of the world. This evangelical position always runs the risk of the slippery slope toward complacency, if we are not prudent.

      Like Saint Paul, we need to engage with the culture in order to evangelize it. Yet at the same time, we also need to bear in mind that our life on earth is a pilgrimage, and our duty in this world is to bring all people to know Christ, both in this life and in the next.

      Many scriptural quotes come to mind. Here are two of them:

      “Vince malum in bono!” (Conquer evil with good).

      “Be as cleaver as serpents, yet simple as doves.”

      Our task is not an easy one in this Valley of Tears.

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