Being young is weird, to put it bluntly, and a lot of it comes from not having the world quite figured out. Even well into one’s late teens and early twenties, the sufficient amount of life experience to be considered worldly hasn’t occurred to the vast majority of kids and it seems to be getting pushed back more and more. This, in particular, is not Gen Z’s fault, it’s the generations that came before them who wanted their kids to have a better life.
“Better life” means fewer hardships and fewer hardships means fewer life-molding lessons, but I digress.
Navigating this weirdness can sometimes be difficult but not at all impossible thanks to many guiding lights that came before them. This can come in the form of parents, mentors, books, culture, and heroes to name a few. When one fails, a kid can look to other outlets for cues on what to do in any given situation.
But this isn’t just the information age, it’s also the age of oversharing. Even being dead and gone doesn’t stop the deepest secrets of your life from being exposed to anyone who wants to learn about it. Knowledge about a person’s deepest secrets and greatest shame can minimize anyone, including the aforementioned heroes.
Gen Z, having been born after the start of the internet, is drowning in thoughts, opinions, secrets, and revelations about people. You’d think that knowing so much about someone would be a good thing. With this info, you can avoid pitfalls, know who to trust and who to cast aside. Who to venerate and who to ignore. That sounds good on the surface until you get to know our culture, and humanity, a bit more. Pulling the camera back, you see we live in a very intolerant culture that only approves of “perfection,” and I put those in quotes because what is considered good changes often.
This has created something of an odd moral definition for Gen Z who doesn’t know what it’s like to live outside of the internet’s influence. If parents don’t actively teach their children, they get their cues from online trends and these “morals” look increasingly like they were thought up by people who live in “The Capitol” from The Hunger Games. These people increasingly dress like them too if red carpet walks are observed.
This leads to what we know as “cancel culture.” Someone falters in some way and the world seemingly comes down on them, driving them off the internet, and if possible, forcing them to lose their job, money, and more. It’s one of our modern culture’s greatest diseases and it’s infected Gen Z like a pandemic.
I could go on about how true morality is often looked down on and that wisdom is often laughed at in favor of trendy morality, but I’d rather draw attention to the fact that Gen Z’s use of cancel culture comes with two very real issues.
Firstly, its heroes are fake. Secondly, it kills its heroes constantly.
Looking back at my childhood, I had a plethora of heroes to look up to. I remember sitting in front of my television to watch Captain Richard Winters lead Easy Company into battle during WWII in the “Band of Brothers” mini-series and thinking how great of a man he was. Intellectually, and on matters of faith, C.S. Lewis was a hero of mine. In the world of fantasy, I thought you didn’t get cooler than Spike Spiegel of Cowboy Beebop (I still think that).
One other hero was Bob Ross, the soft-spoken PBS painter that everyone knows and loves. Not only did he teach you how to create beautiful works of art, but he was also a man who knew how to work with very little to create something great and encouraged people to push pursue their interests and turn them into talents. He was a positive force in the universe…and then the Netflix documentary about him was released. It’s here you learn that Ross had a darker side when the cameras were turned off, specifically with the ladies. He was a womanizer and cheated on his wife.
Ross broke the rules and as such, Ross is somehow less. Gen Z reacted by turning their back on the painter. One created a TikTok video about it, but one member of Gen Z called her own generation out for their massive problem. Watch the video below.
Gen Z was raised in the midst of an age where cultivation of one’s image is the norm and some of the best put on a show that paints themselves as altruistic, loving, good-natured, and uplifting. Gen Z supports and loves them to the point where their good nature becomes meme-worthy. Something develops called “stan culture,” where fanaticism becomes akin to worship. However, in the age of information, the skeletons people keep in the closet are going to come out. As it turns out, the person isn’t as perfect as their carefully crafted public persona let on. There are varying degrees of cancelation, but cancelation happens nonetheless.
Gen Z robs themselves of a hero that should, for all intents and purposes, be looked up to.
If tomorrow, someone revealed to me that Major Winters cheated on his wife and once kicked a dog, I would be disappointed, but I wouldn’t really think him any less of a hero. I would think he was a flawed human…just like me. Prone to mistakes and doing things I later regret. Ross is much the same. A flawed man who made a very positive impact.
No one is perfect. Everyone makes errors, and sometimes these errors are massive. People fall into sin and vice more easily than some think. Many in Gen Z, as young as they are, haven’t gone through enough life experiences to understand the full weight of this fact. At some point, they too will make a major mistake and they’ll hope for grace and mercy from those around them, and I hope they get it.
Of all the lessons Gen Z should be learning right now and doesn’t seem to, it’s that one. No one is perfect and forgiveness is one of the greatest virtues we have. Cancel culture seems to derive from the lack of this understanding but it will hit them like a ton of bricks down the line. When they learn perfection is unattainable, it’ll be a hard lesson.
Gen Z will have to learn to forgive, not just others but themselves. They should understand that perfection is unattainable and that their heroes are still heroes despite their flaws. Many may even be more heroic because of their flaws. Some have flaws so great and are still so loved by those closest to them that it should give hope that forgiveness isn’t unattainable.
King David sent his best friend off to war to die so he could cover up the fact that he impregnated his wife Bathsheba, and he suffered major consequences for it, but God still favored David.
Gen Z should pick its heroes wisely, but when those heroes inevitably prove to be flawed, they shouldn’t crucify them. Without guides, you’ll find yourself lost in the woods pretty easily, and at that point, you’ll believe anyone who can claim to lead you out of it.