Home > The Monday Musings Column > on the snowflake generation

on the snowflake generation

I only have myself to blame; in fact pretty much all of us of my age do, for these are our children and grandchildren after all. I don’t really know where I went wrong, possibly I did not really see the warning signs, or did not realise their significance if I did, but we are stuck with what we have for the time being.

Maybe we were all too liberal in our thinking and in the way that we wanted to protect our loved ones against the less pleasant aspects of life, but the result seems to be that we have bred successive generations of people who seem much less able to cope with the realities that they will have to face up to.

I first became aware of this in the late eighties when a group of us in the office were making jokes about the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster. We were mostly male and aged from our thirties to fifties and some, not me, were ex services people including one of the ladies present. Black humour was a defence mechanism generally and was a standard part of our conversation in our open plan office. It applied to the minor frustrations of day to day work as we tried to cope with our myriad tasks, but on this morning one of the crew, a former merchant navy officer walked in to start work and asked what NASA stood for. After an someone had called out the correct answer he replied; “Need Another Seven Astronauts”. Poor taste maybe, but it got a huge guffaw from around the room to be followed by another question; “Where do astronauts go for their holidays? – All over the South Atlantic”, this greeted by groans, but also one of the two eighteen year old girls who had just joined the team rushing out of the room in obvious distress.

She had been so upset by the comments that she flatly refused to work with us anymore and arrangements were made to swap her with another team, but before we had sorted that out the other teenager also asked to move. It was a chastening experience and caused a lot of debate amongst us. Some were in the good riddance camp; if you can’t take it, get out whilst others were much more sympathetic and felt that we should cut out at least the worst of the banter and, as always, there was a group in the middle who didn’t really care either way. Nothing much changed and I remember a similar clutch of jokes about the Zeebrugge ferry disaster a year later. Another teenager, this time male, who had joined us from school the previous Summer burst into tears at his desk. It was pointed out to him that one of the protagonists in the jocularity has seen colleagues killed on the streets of Belfast just a few years previously and that some of us dealt with our grief very differently.

I will talk specifically about some of my own experiences as a boy. I saw my first dead body when I was thirteen and I found a corpse in a ditch beside the road, a victim of a hit and run accident. The person had disappeared around three days earlier and this was in mi-Summer; the corpse was not an attractive sight to say the least. About three months later whilst out on my Sunday paper round I witnessed a serious road accident and, as the smallest person present, crawled into the crumpled wreck to try and stop the bleeding from the driver’s leg whilst an ambulance was summoned. I didn’t succeed in my endeavours, but was still trying when he died.

Yes, I did cry a little over the second incident, but I don’t feel that either trauma had any adverse effect on me. Instead, like my parents generation who had experienced WW2, it helped me learn to cope. It isn’t that I am unemotional, far from it, but I have an acceptance that the world can, at times, be a nasty place and bad things happen. I have no need to try and find someone to blame or otherwise justify what happened, I can just accept that it has happened and move on.

I feel sorry for those who do not seem able to cope with the slightest setback, let alone bereavement and I feel guilt for having been part of the cause. There is not a lot that I can do to help fix it either expect, perhaps, to try and raise debate as I am doing here. It has taken us about forty years, maybe more, to get to this point and, as the pendulum swings, at some point it will come back the other way. I will be long gone by them I suspect, but I hope that the world that my grandchildren and great-grandchildren are growing up in will see them better able to deal with life. I, and my generation, have not had it too bad as Harold Macmillan pointed out in my boyhood. I am sorry that my legacy is not even better.

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