A look at the past year, especially in terms of civil engagement and activism, has shown us just how powerful and influential younger generations can be. We’ve seen teenagers single-handedly organize protests, initiate social media movements and trends, and bring awareness to the important topics of the day.
But as is often the case with social activism, we rarely see what happens to these individuals after the dust settles and attention has inevitably turned elsewhere. Take the events of last summer, for example. With the election and inauguration of our latest president, it appears these issues that once dominated our every waking moment are no longer as crucial to our collective social consciousness as they once were, or so it would seem.
Our attention is fleeting, unfortunately so. We’re always searching for the next exciting thing, the newest and most important purpose. Purpose is essentially why we exist, which is why, from a young age, we’re searching for our own objectives and what drives us to be healthy, happy people.
But unsurprisingly, we’ve repeatedly been misled about what will really satisfy us. And these days, we’re encouraged to rebel against the mainstream in order to find true fulfillment. If that’s really the case and we’re interested in rebellion, here’s what we should be doing.
Rebellion Today Looks Like Marriage and Babies
We think of “rebellion” in terms of what goes against the grain. Oftentimes, rebellion looks like going against a powerful system or structure which is usually seen as oppressive or harmful.
Let’s contextualize by looking at the past. Think of the counterculture movement of the ’60s, when young people protested against the government, wars, racial discrimination, etc.
But we’re in a new era now, and rebellion doesn’t necessarily look like what it used to. When we think of the norm now — young, single people usually driven by the new or temporary exciting thing (be it hookup culture, activism, and the like) — it doesn’t look much like the culture that used to contradict the mainstream. It now is the mainstream.
Rebelling against the mainstream now looks like getting married and having kids.
On the other hand, we have young married couples, who have children or are planning to have families, sometimes religious or with a belief system in a higher power. And more often than not, they’re criticized or mocked for supposedly giving up their freedom and youth to “settle down.”
Statistics don’t lie. Marriage rates have fallen since the 1950s, across races and ethnicities, and continue to do so. Both men and women are marrying later in life (usually around age 30) and having fewer children, and more single people now live alone than ever before. American households have never before looked the way they do now, and that’s not necessarily a good thing.
Spoiler Alert: We’ve Been Misled about Marriage and Family
The term “settling down” is an interesting one because one connotation is that young people who marry, build homes and households, and have kids with their spouses are doing just that: settling. We think of marriage as boring and routine, and romanticize our single lives as carefree, even though more often than not they’re fraught with emotional pain and hardship.
This is how we’ve been trained to view it, not through our own eyes but through society’s. Marriage is sometimes equated to slavery, while singledom is characterized as fun, sexy, and free from responsibility.
The phrase settling down has the connotation of “settling,” as well as of stability.
A 2020 article from The Atlantic reinforces these misleading paradigms. It’s titled, shockingly enough, “The Nuclear Family Was a Mistake.” It’s this narrative, reinforced solely by anecdotes and not at all by facts or statistics, that tells us all we need to know about how our society views families and stable familial relationships — as antiquated, obsolete, and, God forbid, conservative (and not even in the political sense). Hence, that’s how we’re led to contextualize young couples and young parents: as throwing away their youth, as irresponsible for bringing children into our world, or even as careless for procreating at all.
Finding Real Fulfillment outside Ourselves
Upon closer examination, it’s not at all surprising to learn that no, nuclear families aren’t a mistake, despite whatever comment du jour we’re trying to make about diversity or conservatism or family values. In fact, it’s been sociologically proven that they’re our best chance of having healthy, prosperous, thriving communities.
There's much to be said about fatherless households or single-parent families, which are inextricably linked and contribute to unfortunate statistics like poverty, infant mortality, and criminal activity. We demonize families because they contradict ideological agendas and narratives, like that of The Atlantic’s, though it’s been proven time and time again that they’re more beneficial to us as a society than we’d like to believe.
Today’s young people are less religiously affiliated than ever before.
There’s yet another facet of cultural significance we often deem too traditional to be worthwhile: religion. Karl Marx, the father of Communism which is now hegemonic among today’s increasingly popular progressive ideologies, called religion “the opium of the people.” According to the Pew Research Center, today’s young people are less religiously affiliated than ever before. Young adults have moved away or disassociated themselves from religion or belief systems which they might have been raised in, though some might still maintain a sense of spirituality while not ascribing or adhering to specific faiths.
With good reason — we demonize religion too, normally for not falling in line with whichever political or social ideology we’ve replaced it with. And if the father of Communism (a man our culture worships, by the way) criticizes religion, it makes sense that his most ardent adherents would completely reject its influence, and more so, actively fight for its extinction.
However, a survey (also conducted by Pew Research) which analyzed over 24 countries had interesting findings that naturally contradict the mainstream belief that religion is entirely unnecessary. The study found that not only are religious people happier, they’re also, for all intents and purposes, more fulfilled. They’re more likely to be involved in community activities, more civically minded with regards to voting and participating in elections, and even healthier with their lifestyle decisions.
All of this goes against what we’ve been told. At some point, it’s natural to wonder why we’ve been continually lied to, if the key to happiness, purpose, and satisfaction in our lives has been right in front of us this whole time.
The core concept behind rebellion has always been unconformity, in addition to questioning authority, whether it’s political or social.
Getting married and having kids are the ultimate forms of rebellion in our vain, me-before-you-driven times because they go against everything that culture and the mindset it instills in us stand for. They represent sacrifice and selflessness, which contradicts the entire agenda of a society frenzied with self-love and temporal, superficial fulfillment. And we may be too scared to take advantage of that because we’re too proud to admit that it’s possible to find happiness and fulfillment in values that are deemed traditional or conservative.
It’s abundantly clear that many of us struggle with finding purpose in life, and that younger generations are desperately searching for meaning. The answer seems to be right in front of us, if we can only come to acknowledge it.
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