Philosopher Ayn Rand got it right when she posited self- interest being more important than the collective agenda. Essentially, she believed society was better served when individuals were allowed to explore their full potential in every area of life purely for self-aggrandizing purposes over societal acceptance or pleasing the masses. By Rand's account, self-interest is seen as the catalyst for individual achievement and self-actualization and lies at the core of human nature. Within the last 12,000 years, since the inception of civilization, every component of the socialization process through religion, governance and law has made an effort to quash the impact of self-interest. Yet, every human contribution or achievement is a direct result of man and woman acting in their self- interest; whether it was a tangible result or mere emotional pleasure. In fact, the "Baby Boomer" generation, born 1946-1964, is credited for not only amassing the greatest wealth in the history of civilization, but laying the foundation for the success and achievement mentality of contemporary society. So, why has society regaled self-interest, yet fought vociferously against its ultimate power? And what can students learn from its glory as well as its greed?
"Self-interest" and thus "self-preservation" is a dominant characteristic of human nature. To skew the term to a negative connotation inherently relegates it to the dungeon of isolation. Very few people are inclined to embrace doctrines and ideologies that seek to diminish human potential. Whether it’s a book, movie or play, we want a happy ending. The happy ending exemplifies the redeeming value of the human spirit. We need to know that if someone strives for the "greater good," they should find it. After all, what good is being good if there isn't a pay off? Eminent psychologist Alfred Adler noted that humans are slaves to their motivations. The motivational force within humans rules their choices throughout life. At the end of the day, the individual seeks peace, tranquility and happiness. This is the directed outcome for the greater good! The greater good in this context is described as "The striving for great achievement or noteworthy contribution for the sake of personal accomplishment, which invariably serves the greater community." The challenge becomes when the quest for the greater good usurps the power of others.
A USA Today newspaper article (January 10, 2007), titled, "The Goal: Fame & Fortune" reported high school and college students are more interested in fame and fortune than previous generations. Today's generation of students are concerned with obtaining well-paying jobs and gaining some level of distinction within their chosen profession. While on the service this smacks of the values demonstrated by Baby Boomer, there is a difference. Today’s students don’t have a benchmark of experiences by which their value stems from. Baby Boomers had the aftershock of the Great Depression mixed with civil and social unrest. Today’s students have MTV and the melancholy that comes from a favorite T.V, show being canceled. Not surprisingly, Generation Y (as they are referred-- (1976-2001) has taken the idea of parental affirmations for being special to a whole new level. Generation Y believe they are entitled to the best that life has to offer. Surveys suggest that Generation Y doesn't believe in 60- hour work- weeks and as one manager for a large payroll accounting company noted " Are the first ones out of the door at 5:00PM." Employers are challenged and perplexed, because the fear of losing a job doesn't frighten this generation. They can always go back home to live with mommy and daddy (If they aren't living with them already). The social stigma of immaturity or arrested development doesn't seem to affect them. In fact, Generation Y is believed to be the closest to their parents than past generations. Parents are sought for guidance and advice well into their child’s adulthood. One case study showed a college student getting a sub-average grade on a term paper. After class, the student approached the professor and handed him her cell phone. On the other end of the line was an irate parent wanting to know why her daughter received a low grade. Years ago this would not have been acceptable nor heard of. In short, the success-driven Baby Boomers have exacerbated the natural selfishness within humans and created a more self-absorbed Generation Y. Their original intention might have been an attempt from saving children from the setbacks and challenges they faced while growing up. But, in the interim, parents might have made them weak and over dependent. With such levels of entitlement, can Generation Y use extreme self-interest to astound the world through innovation and achievement as their predecessors?
The answer is "yes" with the right foundation. The self-interest of Generation Y if not steered in the direction of industry success and professional achievement will lead to a generation of individuals fraught with insecurities and unprepared to assume responsibility for the continuation of civilization. In addition, parents who've micromanaged their children’s lives into adulthood will feel the brunt of co-dependency as they advance in age with limited resources. To insure Generation Y has solid footing requires a few dynamics to take place.
First, students must become more inquisitive and critical about the world around them. While technology is an excellent tool for supplementing the educational process, it can't be the focus itself. The upside of advanced technology has been the equalizing of society's economic strata. Both rich and poor are privy to the same information over the World Wide Web. The downside is the "dummying down" of students. In a random survey administered by Core Edge Image & Charisma Institute, which asked students "Do you believe your generation has anything to contribute to the next generation?" Overwhelmingly, respondents felt their generation had little to nothing to contribute or pass on to future generations. The major reason provided was the proliferation of technology and its ease in providing information requiring little to no thought. They felt they weren't required to analyze information, because in some respects it had been done for them. Even in cases of plagiarism, the guilty party may go unsuspected, because of the enormous amount of information at their fingertips. As a result, students must develop a curious nature about social phenomenon in specific areas to begin the process of contributing a body of work built on the foundation of past achievers. By synthesizing their thoughts from a vast array of information into a specialty allows them to distinguish themselves as problem solvers as well as experts within their fields. In a world filled with generalists and neophytes, experts rule!
Secondly, students should know what they want to invest their lives towards and the cost for the pay off. While, details may be initially murky, once the general interest is determined, it should be tapered down to specifics as time goes on. Experts suggest that a minimal of 10 years is required to begin scratching the service towards making a mark within an industry. For economists and philosophers the time is longer; an estimated 20-25 years to become world renown. The cost in the way of time, money and resources requires a different kind of focus than is usually seen in even above average students. In some respects, the level of focus has to border on obsession. It requires a relentless quest with steel determination over a period of years. This level of commitment might be even foreign to educators who are commissioned to inspire this level of tenacity. The student must delay gratification for so long that she becomes “monk-like.” No children, no spouse nor house note until the completion of the mission. Of course, this is required for highest of ambition, but similar sacrifices have to be made even for a lower degree of professional and economic success. Ultimately, the price for extreme success on the front end has to be paid by the sacrifice in time and resources on the backend. Not to emphasize this essential point is a disservice to students who aspire economic success and distinction, but also a perpetuation of a myth of what it takes to achieve phenomenal success.
Finally, students should institutionalize their accomplishments either by developing disciples, erecting structures or codifying a body of work. For a life’s work to have longevity and permanency requires a system for its perpetuity. Again, this requires a counterintuitive mindset to “quick fixes” and “overnight successes.” To become the next Niccolo Machiavelli or William Shakespeare requires a system of distribution for funneling one’s work. Developing disciples requires having individuals under your tutelage who serve as your mouthpiece to others. The transformational powers of your work has positively influenced your disciples in ways that they spread the lessons learned as well as add to the foundation from their own growth and analysis. Charismatic leaders are the guiltiest of not cultivating disciples once their tenure has elapsed. The magnetism of a charismatic personality can’t sustain a disciple without the proper grooming and direction. Without the proper instructions, the disciple will remember the feelings, but not the message. Erecting structures around a body of work usually comes in forms of schools, Think Tanks and foundations. Each serves to highlight and build the platform of one’s life’s work. While, people are essential for maintaining these structures, it is the building or location itself that is the focal point. Executive directors may come and go, but it’s the structure encompassing enrichment programs, discussions and speaker series that serve as backdrop to the contributor. Codifying or systematically disseminating one’s work either through books, papers, audio, visual or Internet are means for spreading one’s life’s work in a tangible form. It becomes an artifact of the work for generations to come. Institutionalizing one’s work brings financial rewards for the achiever while she lives and passes on to survivors upon death as a last economic legacy to a committed life.
It is no small feat to astound the world with greatness, particularly with so many competing forces. The Baby Boomer Generation did it from economic and social upheaval; Generation Y will have to muster the internal fortitude from a time of uncertainty. The conditions might differ, but achievements emerge from the known as well as the unknown. Whether Baby Boomers lighted a torch or encouraged Generation Y to borrow a lighter will remain to be seen. In the end, generations that follow will either challenge itself to find its own way or lose direction and let the next Super Power on the world’s stage guide them.
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