Every year when I was young, as my class moved through the ranks of elementary school, and up to junior and senior high school, I can remember hearing teachers say these words: “This is the worst class I have ever had!”
Perhaps it was something that teachers said to every class when they were having a particularly bad day, but a mischevious part of me always took pride in hearing those words – we were the rebels, and by all accounts, we were the first.
While rebellion and growing up have gone hand-in-hand ever since cavemen got pimples and had new sexual feelings, I have always been convinced that my generation – those now in their early 20s – has been somewhat unique.
Many of my close friends have had to work through a general malaise of disillusionment, a period of self-examination that involved a lot of why? and what for?. This manifested during the schooling years in rambunctiousness, lack of ambition, and a nagging doubt eating away at the idea that our work was actually going to get us anywhere – which was often voiced to weary educators.
I remember distinctly a conversation I had with a friend two years ago, over early-afternoon cocktails at a cafe in Seoul, who listed out the stages of his future life – graduating, becoming a dentist, getting a hot car, getting a hot wife, having kids, kids graduating – and after he finished he said sadly and with disgust, “And then what?”
It became clear then that this inquisitive (perhaps cynical) spirit had developed and been focused on examining the direction of our lives. We’ve been pressured to get a certain degree, or to get a certain job (“why?”), we’ve been pressured to buy things, or pressured to settle (“what for?”). Meanwhile terrible reminders of mortality have been splashed across front pages since 9/11, and all this questioning has convinced us there’s more to it.
And so here we are, a little wisened and aware that there is more – there’s a whole damn world out there! But we don’t want a piece of it, we just want to understand our place in it. We want to meet others and hear their stories, we want to relate and network and seek.
Much to the vexation of those poor teachers, we are not – and have never been – content with the answers that were given. We’ll find our self-definition in our journeys, in whatever tongue they may be.
This post was partially inspired by a recent conversation over at Vagabondish.