Badges of Dishonor: our culture's obsession with foolish habits

Our culture openly praises foolishness.

I wish I could make exceptions for my friends, family... even myself. Yet it seems that no matter what situation I find myself in, I'm greeted by the incessant boasting of feats that do nothing but publicly display the boaster's ignorance, lack of self-control or, in some instances, complete idiocy. If I may make a reference to pop culture to illustrate my point, turn your attention to one of our "stars."

This one goes out to the ladies, at breakfast, in last night’s dress
Uh-huh, I see you
Yo, this goes out to all you kids that still have their cars at the club valet and it’s Tuesday
Yo, shout out to all you kids, buying bottle service, with your rent money
— Katy Perry, "This Is How We Do"

The actions that would have been met with disappointment, cutting off of the allowance and even bouts of jail time two generations ago are the actions that are hailed as brave and edgy in the YOLO generation. Binge drinking, wasteful spending sprees, not-so-G-rated slumber parties... now, they're worn as a badge of honor.

Not so long ago, the average American man in his 20s had achieved most of the milestones of adulthood: a high-school diploma, financial independence, marriage and children. Today, most men in their 20s hang out in a novel sort of limbo, a hybrid state of semi-hormonal adolescence and responsible self-reliance.
— Kay Hymowitz

A result, perhaps of the phenomenon known as extended adolescence, the young adults (20's) of this generation are foolishly putting off the proverbial "seeking after wisdom" quest. And it's not just the druggies and alcoholics either.

I will admit, it would be easy to sit back behind my computer screen and preach at the people who are *obviously* pushing boundaries. However,

I would rather speak to the "good kids"

...the "responsible adults," and the next generation of world citizens expected to do their duty. Foolish habits aren't necessarily marked by empty bottles and addiction; much of our society is plagued by a much more subtler form of asinine living.

We proudly speak of our weekends spent binge watching How I Met Your Mother or our "insane" workouts in which we pulled a back muscle as though they were a success! We brag about our ability to function on 2 hours of sleep or pass a class with the lowest possible grade as though they are skills we have cultivated over the years. We purchase vehicles well out of our price range with outrageous monthly notes and are self-proclaimed "coffee snobs" because it proves we're responsible adults who know how to spend our own money.

But when has a wasting a weekend, pulling a back muscle, depriving yourself of sleep, nearly failing a class, accumulating debt or turning down regular old coffee because it's not cold-drip ever made you successful or made your grandmother proud of you? The best part about these "badges of honor" is that they are worn in disguise. We complain about our poor grades due to a lack of sleep due to our inability to buy good coffee due to our lack of money after paying off our car note due to not working on the weekends when we binge watched a TV show due to our pulled muscle.

It's brilliant, really. Most people praise us for our dedication to our TV show and quote the lines along with us. Most people want to know how we got away with doing so little in class and still passed. Most people want to know what our favorite cold-drip is so they don't have to settle for regular old coffee either. BUT... if anyone dares to call us out on our foolish behavior, we deny it being purposeful and have an excuse ready to defend ourselves. The plan is fool-proof (pun definitely intended).

This habit perpetuates itself - contagious, addicting and, in a shallow way, fun because we love pushing boundaries. So we complain and our friends complain with us and we brag and our friends brag with us, all of us competing for the title. Thus our culture becomes increasingly whiny and not necessarily about or because of anything in particular. Our attitudes find solace in this slump where everything is moving in a broken cycle, feeding our complaints with our imprudence.

"The 20's are a time for experimenting, living a little, making mistakes, being rebellious!"

Have you heard that? What idiot came up with that? When has there ever been a good time to do bad things? The idea that such a time of acting out is not only normal but expected of us by generations before us is absolutely preposterous.

Replicated mistakes are the pinnacle of foolishness.

A learned fool is more a fool than an ignorant fool.
— Molière

Truth is to be taught, passed down from those who are wiser. The 20's, then, are a time of listening intently to the wisdom of the people who have been where we are and understand the harsh realities of life. Little stock is put into the teachings of the older generations, being blown off as "irrelevant" or "a thing of the past." In place of these battle hardened truths, mistakes are lifted up as the ultimate learning tool.

"Awe, just let 'em make a few mistakes. Kids gotta learn, don't they?"

You're darn right they do. And it's your job to teach them. Scripture speaks directly to parents when it says,

Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it.
— Proverbs 22:6

This isn't a suggestion or an afterthought. It's a command. To train, to council, to teach. Education is the chief occupation of the learned.

Somewhere along the way, it became okay for mistakes - to which the repercussions are quite evident - to be made. And then again. Repeated, often with a sense of pride, as others look on at their foolishness with envy. I have found that many of these badges are connected. We are able to collect one which gives us the necessary excuse to collect another without consequence. For example, we don't put in the time necessary to make good grades in school and have to retake a class, using our "inability to make good grades" as an excuse not to bother trying which perpetuates our grades. We defend our laziness by blaming our inability to learn well and defend our inability to learn well on the professor's inability to teach well. It's a blame game where we always win.

Breaking the cycle isn't a matter of being confronted - we've got excuses at the ready. It's not a matter of consequences - they only provide the excuses for other foolish habits.

The cycle can only be broken by a deliberate choice to change. To conquer one foolish habit leaves another excuse-less, for which we must then take responsibility.

I believe that we should strive to be a better version of ourselves tomorrow. We won't always succeed. But it's not [entirely] about succeeding, it's about the pursuit. It's about excellence and personal standards. What will you contribute to the world? What will you contribute to your society? What will you contribute to your family? Important questions, no doubt, but perhaps most important of all, what are you doing with the body, possessions, talents, energy, personality and time that God has given you?

Food for thought:

1. While you lay in bed watching TV, there is someone out there, your age, doing their part to change the world.

2. Labeling yourself a [fill in the blank] snob is a gratitude problem not a "refined taste."

3. Poor sleep habits negatively affect every other area of your life whether you want to accept it or not.

4. Spending money you don't have shows a lack of patience and self-control not elitism or adulthood.

5. Being lazy and pulling in D's is not the same thing as "Minimum Effective Dose"

6. Being able to "hold your liquor" is not a symbol of manhood it's a recipe for liver failure and alcoholism.