Two weeks ago, an article by Old Gold & Black News Editor Julia Haines captured my attention about the topic of resilience.
Titled “Concerns Grow Over Student Resilience,” the piece included references to recent nation-wide events and faculty quotes that proved the point: college kids are not as tough as they used to be. From perceived grade deflation to a lack of ideological openness, students attending Wake Forest and other top universities in the country seem to be particularly needy and stubborn.
But are they? After contemplating my own typical experience of freshman disappointments — occasionally falling behind the academic treadmill and rejection from a selective student organization — I had to do my own research. So, I called my grandmothers.
After speaking with both wonderfully wise women, it turns out that resilience is not as simple as I thought, and it doesn’t seem to grow or fade with time and cultural influence. Rather, some correlating factors have made it appear that mass resilience is at an all-time low. Empathy, psychology and community influence are the main contributors that I have found that alter our perception of resilience levels.
“Today’s teens may be too self-centered,” my grandmother Margaret Langford said. “I do believe most parents are helicopter parents … trying to know everything about their children, checking on them, not letting them fall down occasionally.” For Langford, or “Maymi” to the grandkids, the material and technological abundance in which her grandchildren are being raised differs from that of her own upbringing: a humble one in the aftermath of the Great Depression and World War II. While her circumstances were obviously different than now, when it comes down to the facts, her teenage years involved the same issues that most Wake Forest students deal with: “being rejected by boyfriends or girlfriends, not getting on a team or not being invited to belong to a club and not getting into college.”
Ultimately, her observation was profound. “I think we [all] need to be more tolerant and sympathetic toward others,” she concluded. Remembering the importance of empathy is a hard thing for all generations, not only teens. Thus, as young adults, we should be less critical toward ourselves when it comes to resilience — part of it is empathy, something that happens through experience. For most students here, we don’t have a lot of that yet.
Secondly, the psychological research about young adult brains further suggests that we don’t have perfect self and social perception at this age, compared to later in life. Puberty often lingers into our first few college years, bringing with it cognitive characteristics such as egocentrism and the phenomena known as “imaginary audience.” In other words, we think for ourselves and only ourselves. Living in a culture in which we as young adults expect “instant gratification instead of taking the time to work for something,” as my Grandmother Barbara Williamson said, can further amplify our (hopefully) fading pubescent mentalities.
Finally, let’s consider Cam Newton. Single-handedly, he wrecked the morale of his team by running out of the Super Bowl press conference after the Panthers’ Super Bowl defeat.
As the quarterback, Newton spoke and fled on behalf of his team, thereby demoralizing the other Panthers players. His lack of resilience reflected the fact that the attitude of a group, from a team to a class, depends heavily on the encouragement of leaders and other community members.
While we at Wake Forest do not hold the reputation of a favored Super Bowl team on our shoulders, we each play a massive role in our community to affect the resilience of one another.
The quality of our individual thoughts, speech and decisions must be examined in order to improve the emotional climate on campus, starting with the belief that we are in fact resilient.
There. Don’t you feel more resilient?