If you could have everything you wanted in life fed to you on a silver spoon, would you choose such a lifestyle, or bite the hand that dared feed you? For much of the young generation in America, the road is paved, set down by modern society and family. Whether families have been settled in the United States for generations or had migrated only a short period ago, youth contentedly spoil upon parents’ hardships and bask in the exuberance of life. Many youths are comprised of enormous privilege, maybe from their parent’s work, but also from savvy technology that has emerged in the last decade or so creating a much easier and simpler way to conduct one’s life. Sebastian Junger, author of “Tribe”, asks the question, “How do you become an adult in a society that doesn’t ask for sacrifice?” In a sense, can we truly “grow up” without experiencing a hardship of some sort? With an increasing middle class and a safety net that surrounds most youth, they are shielded and shied away from such challenges. Therefore, for many, there is a sheer predictability of what is to come; school, college, job, family, kids, and on and on it goes, without taking much risk. We are all just small cogs in an enormous machine, with technology increasingly making tasks rudimentary—therefore, are any of us truly necessary to keep the wheel turning?
Do I need to work in college to pay for my classes and room and board? No, not necessarily, though I like to make money to save and use for my own personal pleasure. Therefore, there was no need for me to work two jobs a week on top of all my other extracurricular activities and school. However, I did not do these jobs just for the fun of it, but with purpose, and with an idea of how I could benefit in the long run from these experiences. Even so, it was a lot of work, and incredibly hard to keep everything in my life in balance. Though, as Junger put it, humans thrive on hardship. When I first started serving at a pub, they over-scheduled me, and so I worked double shifts multiple days a week. The hardship I had of balancing everything was minuscule, and a hardship I chose, but it relates to the bigger point I am trying to make. Humans are at their best when challenged and forced into action to overcome difficult hurdles. My time-management skills improved, I learned how to conduct myself better with so much responsibility, and I learned what hard work feels like. These skills I am happy to have learned and experienced in some form, though incomparable to true hardship.
When I worked with rural youth last summer in India, I witnessed hardship rarely seen in the US. The hardship of these young boys and girls consisted of inadequate schooling, being discriminated against in school (much of the youth we worked with are considered “untouchables”), food being invaluable, and livelihoods that consisted of hard labor with little relief. A group of us visited the home of one of our co-leaders, and I was extremely surprised. He lived where their toilet was a community one and in a house that was a small hut with no electricity. This boy is a leader, responsible, resourceful, and conducts himself well. Now, you must notice my initial surprise; looking back, I was ashamed of it. Why shouldn’t someone of such a background be those things? Consistently we see ads and commercials on our computers, TVs, and newspapers depicting poor, starving children with sad eyes with a message asking for our money to help. People become defined by these images in our heads, creating a “one-sided story”. India dispelled such myths for me. Yes, starvation is a real thing, children are dying, diseases are rampant in some parts of the world, clean water is a privilege, etc. However, the people in those conditions are not merely defined by these twists of fate.
However, I have transgressed quite a bit. To continue my earlier point, as much as we value ease of life, hardship is also a necessity. In fact, many seek it, because the age old saying remains true: adversity is the key to growth and learning.