On the weakness/acceptance of The Youth Of Today

I keep seeing posts from Boomers saying that Millennials/Xennials are either infinitely weaker than their predecessors, because so many of them suffer from physical and mental ailments, or infinitely more accepting than their predecessors, because so many of them are so open about discussing their physical and mental ailments. I gotta ask: do Boomers read actual books? Because, sorry, but no.

Literature and historical accounts from every age I can think of are solid with mentions of physical and mental ailments. They are literally all over the place, affecting people of all ages, genders, and walks of life. Seriously, my memory is awful, but I would struggle to think of a book or story from any kind of bygone era that does NOT include the mention of someone who is ill or disabled in some way. I am sure there must be tons, obvs, both among the ones I’ve read and among the countless I’ve missed, but I doubt that they would be in the majority. So I am seriously at a loss as to where the impression of a roughty-toughty / inherently uncaring past comes from. It definitely doesn’t come from the study of the information said past left for us.

I reckon what has changed is that:

  • More people know more words and concepts about physical and mental health. Until conditions are discovered and popularised, people have a tendency to talk about them in rather woolly terms. That doesn’t mean that said people don’t suffer from those conditions. Our ancestors who lost partners or children and “spent the rest of their lives in deep mourning” were probably suffering from clinical depression. Those to whom a traumatic event happened and “were never quite right again” were probably suffering from PTSD. Victorian and Georgian accounts are full of people suffering from “their nerves”, having “funny turns”, or having to be shipped off to healthier climes, to the country, or to specialist treatment centres. All those people were probably ill with actual illnesses, but the words and concepts weren’t there to adequately describe their experiences (and, if they were females, they were obviously just suffering from that). That doesn’t make their ailments less valid.
  • Literary taste has changed over the ages, and this particular age is full of trauma and illness porn. A lot of people enjoy very graphic descriptions of various forms of suffering, while past authors (or, at least, the ones I’ve read) tended to incorporate illness and suffering into their stories and accounts without rolling around in the gory details.* Combined with the lack of knowledge on health subject, this meant that past authors didn’t write “Tortured By Love: The Sunday Times Best-Seller about Munchausen Syndrome By Proxy”; they wrote “The Secret Garden.” And marketed it to children.
  • A lot of ailments were so normalised that they weren’t seen as ailments. Children caught random diseases and died, or were damaged for life; big whoop. Older people were disabled; so what? What do you think “getting old” means? Young people suffered accidents or events and were also disabled; yeah well, kind of unfortunate, but it happens. Addictions were only really an issue when they were addictions to something Foreign, like opium; a man who drank himself to death or bet away the family home was just some dude. Whether the same criteria were applied to his wife depended on the social mores of their subculture, but young women “wasting away” after a break-up or “having a turn” and killing their infant children and/or themselves were definitely One Of Those Things. And when something is normalised, it has a tendency not to gain center stage, both in historical accounts and as part of a story arc. That doesn’t mean that it isn’t there. It’s just there so much of it about that nobody makes a fuss about it.
  • As some Boomers are so fond of reminding us, “we” used to put Those People away – as in, our society had institutions where visibly ill individuals could be sent to, likely forever. Some families just sequestered their malfunctioning members, a la Jane Eyre. But as contemporary accounts show, “we” also had countless visibly ill individuals, in particular individuals from the poorer classes, who just got on with life to the best of their abilities, because that was the only option available to them. Many of them died younger that they might have if they could have received adequate care (“A Christmas Carol,” anyone?). And I think it’d be disingenuous to argue whether that shows that society is more or less accepting than it used to be while ignoring purely practical issues. People who needed wheelchairs but couldn’t get them weren’t seen wheeling around, because duh. People using wheelchairs weren’t seen cavorting in areas where wheelchairs couldn’t go, also because duh. That doesn’t mean that people needing wheelchairs didn’t exist, or that their lives were devoid of joy or meaning just because they were less visible. And it doesn’t say a damn thing about the people using wheelchairs now.

I’m all for examining the present against the past. But when you’ve gotta rewrite the past to make a point, that point probably doesn’t want making.

*EDIT: As a friend of mine pointed out, there was plenty of trauma porn in past ages. Lives of the Saints, anyone?

One thought on “On the weakness/acceptance of The Youth Of Today

  1. Exactly. My Grandmother, born 1907, told me growing up a teen in the 1970’s; we didn’t have time for puberty in our age; we had to work. (The same with menstrual problems, pms, etc., it didn’t occur because women couldn’t afford them, they had to work). Only upper class women had the time and means to have ‘hysterics’ and other such ‘nonsense’.

    And your analogy about wheelchairs applies to the neurodiversity running through past generations in both sides of my family tree. Since I was diagnosed in my forties I recognize traits of family members as genetic in stead of ‘being jack of all trades’, ‘gifted, but lazy’, ‘akward/eccentric/wayward’ etc. Labels that judged them with ‘lacking character’ or worse.
    And medical afflictions that I have that have symptoms I recognize from my mother, grandmother and other females, that could explain their problems but were never diagnosed by their physician, because they were ‘complaining, clingy women just trying to get attention by being difficult and demanding help’.
    So, a lot was there but not recognized or diagnosed.
    And I, myself, would have lived my life thinking I was character flawed, undisciplined, social inept, hadn’t I recognized my trials and tribulations discribed to a T by neurodivergent people.
    It was terrifying and eye opening to see why I struggled with things that I ‘should be able to do’, since considered to be intelligent enough to do so.
    It is grossly misinterpreting to state that people today ‘have more afflictions’ and abject to conclude people today are weaker than previous generations.


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