Monday, August 31, 2020

The Human Experience

There are two words that we need to hear more often and we need to be willing to share with others more often, and those two words are:

You're okay.

Seriously. We're living in a world that has turned everything into a label, and when you can label it, it's a pathology, and that's a terrible path to go down. Today's teenagers have a label for everything they experience, and it's taking them out of the human realm and putting them into some bizarre clinical existence where every breath they take has a name to it, a diagnosis. 

Recently, I had the chance to talk with a younger person for an extended length of time. In a relatively short conversation, I was given at least fifteen different labels/diagnoses that this young person had been given to define his/her experience in life. This person also spoke about a friend group and the number of labels/diagnoses that are attempting to cohere together as typical young persons and how they are navigating the difficult waters of even the most basic communication without stepping on anyone's "triggers."

Because no one should ever have to deal with anything in life that they aren't prepared to handle.

It would be different if we were talking about legitimate medical or psychological conditions that require intervention and management, but in most cases, what this young person was telling me about were the very common realities that we all share as human beings in a broken world. They are the same things that thousands of generations of us have wrestled with as young people, but back when we did it, they were normal; today, they are labeled and diagnosed and conveyed to be "abnormal" and "problematic."

One member of this friend group hasn't figured out who they are yet and has developed multiple personalities to attempt to deal with things. So of course, that person has dissociative identity disorder without any history of trauma to have developed. He/she is no longer just a teenager trying to define self like all the rest of us were. An inability to decide on things or to focus on tasks is automatically ADHD, rather than a normal part of growing through a discovery period in life. Someone who is insecure - and who among us isn't? - now carries a label of having a "social sensitivity." That can be diagnosed and coded and billed to insurance.

And these young persons are being trained to talk about themselves in this way, using all of these labels. They are in counseling or consulting online therapists to figure out not how to deal with the things they're wrestling with, but how to tell others how to interact with them to protect them from ever coming face-to-face with their own self. This young person actually told me that this friend group had a meeting where they all put their labels out on the table (they were not referred to as labels) so that they could be safe for one another and know how to interact and how not to interact.

The one thing that they apparently keep dancing around, however, is that they're all wrestling with exactly the same things. They may be handling things differently, but the questions they are asking are all the same questions. They want to know who they are. They want to know how they're supposed to act in the world. They wrestle with their own insecurities and the things they don't like about themselves while they are discovering the things they want more of in their lives. They are restless, as they should be - they are transitioning to a new phase of living. And if they would stop being so hyper-focused on telling each other how to dance around their particular issues, maybe they'd see that what they're dealing with doesn't need diagnosed. These are not pathologies.

They are simply human experiences. And by labeling everything and teaching our young people to shield themselves from the hard work of engaging these things, we are stripping them of every opportunity for growth and the meaningfulness that comes out of wrestling with our own humanity.

Listen, I am not saying that the diagnosable doesn't happen in young people. I am not saying that there are not real issues that some of our young people are wrestling with that are simply bigger than they are and that require the intervention of trained professionals and real help. What I am saying is that this generation, unlike any other, has...stopped wrestling at all. They are just building walls of labels around themselves so that they don't have to.

The young person I was speaking with? This young person actually looked me right in the eye and said, "I probably sound like what you call a 'snowflake,' but it's only because I have a diagnosed condition that makes me a snowflake."

No, precious child. You have a world that is failing you. You have a world that is doing its best to keep you small, to tuck you away into yourself and make you so neurotic about who you uniquely are and who you might become that you may, sadly, never understand how beautiful you are, how smart and talented and gifted and loved. Genuinely loved. You may never discover the depth of God's wisdom knitted into your very being from the very first cell of you out of the vastness of His divine imagination because this world has convinced you that everything about you needs a warning around it.

What we really need in this world, especially when it comes to our young people, is to start looking at one another and reminding ourselves that...we're okay. You're okay. What you have is not some broken, messed-up, defunct kind of life but a beautiful opportunity to live the fullness of the human experience. You just...have to be willing to embrace it first.

And there's something else all these labels are doing to our young people. To our old people, even. To every one of us. Something that is extremely dangerous and heartbreaking. More on that tomorrow. 

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