Posts Tagged ‘teen behavior’

Chronic Leaks and Slow Burns: The Impact of Bureaucracy on Teens

May 20, 2010

“After all the test preps, and all the focus on getting things just so you can get into college, I feel like an empty shell. There is no me, and the person who ends up succeeding and getting all that stuff isn’t me at all.” KF, 17 year old NYC teen.

As BP finally siphons some of the oil from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, it will most likely fade from public attention.  The same can be said for forest fires. Crown fires that spread rapidly from treetop to treetop attract attention and frenzied intervention. Fires that smolder beneath thick layers of fallen leaves can burn undetected and destructively for many acres before anyone notices. The mind gradually assimilates most long term chronic events, and it can even seem as if they no longer impact our lives.  Humans have an ability to get used to almost anything, a trait that is adaptive in the short-term and destructive in the long term.  The mind numbing defenses of repression and dissociation are the cultural equivalent of bureaucratization, processes meant to dissipate and nullify the possible emotional tension of group behavior.

David Brooks recently expressed the feeling that Elena Kagan was too perfunctory, too organized around success, not inspired or even inspirational. While Brooks is wrong about her, I believe he might be on to something very important.  What he is describing is the gradual dulling of individual expression and intellectual risk-taking brought on by the culture’s emphasis on an overly bureaucratic, professional and strategic presentation of self. Ask any teen in high school, like the young woman I once met who was interested in a certain 9/11 project for her college resume. Teens will tell you how the continued emphasis on the externals of success and the neglect of powerful socio-cultural values gradually wears them down.

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