Category Archives: Sociology

Becoming: a moleskine full of dreams and anxieties

The story of a ‘creative’ but  stressed-out generation

Recently I’ve seen a documentary that was both confronting as comforting: The Dutch documentary: ‘Alles wat we wilden’ or translated in English: ‘All we ever wanted’ by Sarah Mathilde Domogala. It felt confronting, as I recognized the phenomenon as a member of this particular generation the documentary is all about, and comforting as it gave me the feeling that I’m not alone.

For an impression, watch the trailer below (in Dutch), or watch the entire documentary online here  (hopefully English subtitles will be provided soon as it is a must-see):

The documentary illustrates in an artistic way what I experience as the subtle struggles of  a (my) generation. Artistically the documentary is brilliant, as it captures the colors (beautiful visual editing) and sounds (dreamy soundtrack) of what it feels to come of age (ranging from 25-34 years) during these ‘liquid’ times and negotiate  “who you are” and “what you have/want to become”. Just as the generation itself, free-spirited, beautiful, dreamy and creative, as in the saying ‘the sky is the limit’, so are the lurking and ubiquitous anxieties and sleepless nights.

Documentary "All we ever wanted" read more on: http://www.allweeverwanted.com

The title ‘All we ever wanted’ refers to the notion of growing up in an era where you live out and become your ideal self, you follow your dreams, you ‘make it’. Not only has this been engraved deeply in the collective consciousness of our times, but it is also ‘expected’ of us. The far reaching meritocratic ideals that lurk at night, preventing some from falling asleep. This generation grew up in a household, were  parents provided a daily dose of self-esteem enhancers: “You can do it”, “You can become everything you want to be”. Higher education was (and still is) for the most of us (caution: I’m speaking for myself) not optional, but rather a natural path to take. Prolonged student years of explorations of ideas, friendships, relationships and dreams. A ‘state of the art’ study loan debt, that now has to be proven to the self and society to be ‘worth it’ every penny, as every penny was invested in the trampoline for the reaching of our fragile blossoming dreams. This generation thinks of itself as being ‘free’, and compared to other generations, can be seen indeed as relatively more free. A freedom that comes with a high psychological cost. This psychological cost materializes itself in many forms: as many experience anxieties, panic attacks at night, low self-esteem because of social comparison (comparing oneself to peers that ‘have’ accomplished ‘it’ (whatever that ‘it’ might be)), the fear of failure -one of the many carried irrational fears additional to all the myriad of “what if’s” vocations- the ever-going quest of finding one’s true self, the fear of binding oneself to an ‘ordinary life’, restlessness, mood-swings, hyperactivity, compulsive thinking, irrational sadness, perpetual daydreaming, depression, burn-outs, perfectionism, being freaking hard on oneself and the need of medication to calm all this,  just to name a few of the psychological paralyzing distresses the documentary zooms in. In this sense the documentary contributes to more balance in the array of existing discourses on the new generations and of our contemporary time (late Gen X, Gen Y, MTV Gen, Gen Millenium etc.) where the positive attributes are more highlighted (e.g. greater freedoms, education for all, talents, creative, participative culture, pro-sumers) and other archetypal struggles these new generations face are left in the dark (high rate of depression, insecurities, the feeling of  ‘not fitting in’ etc).  Continue reading

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Cultivating Humanity: a Value Re-boot

Now half way the first academic semester, I’m reaching the end of the course I’m teaching on Sociology of Development. Where the concept of development and changing patterns in society are being explored from different angles. We have just started with the part where we creatively think about different futures. Yes, plural! because that is one of the main messages of this course, social change is about the pluralities of futures, we deal with a lot of the “what if’s”…and we have choices, we are agents of change and can choose wisely.

I named one of the themes the course deals with “Cultivating Humanity: a value re-boot”. The title of this particular theme was inspired by Martha Nussbaum‘s notion of  “Cultivating Humanity” and the unique challenges we as human beings face in our contemporary realities.

Martha Nussbaum

 Cultivating humanity: 3 capabilities

Nussbaum herself, a philosopher, delved into what it means to be human during different times in history and focuses on the meaning of humanity and its challenges in the 21st century, she explores the (crucial) role education plays in cultivating “humanity” and in specific the Liberal Arts and Social Sciences. The roots of the notion of cultivating humanity stems from the stoic philosopher Seneca (4 BC – 65 AD). Seneca contemplates the capacities that makes us, according to him, human beings. Cultivating Humanity is seen through Seneca’s eyes as a true civilization project. Both philosophers -the classical Seneca and the more contemporary Nussbaum- explore what the particular role of education is in contributing to the ideal of humanity. In Seneca’s vision liberal education plays a crucial role, it not only helps to cultivate individuals with the capacity of critical self-reflection, but most importantly, with a “sense of belonging” to something larger than ourselves. Nussbaum, from a more humanistic liberalism perspective, weaves further on this notion and translates these “required” capacities in 3 golden capabilities for what is needed to become a true citizen of the world:

  1. Sympathetic imagination/empathy
  2. The Critical examination of one self/reflection
  3. The authentic feeling of belonging to humanity/solidarity.

The following short film entitled “Page 23” was made during The 48 hour Film Project 2011 in Utrecht. The film captured my attention as it radically contrasts Nussbaum’s capabilities for the cultivation of humanity. Page 23 not only refers to a page in the well known catalog of the Swedish IKEA, but illustrates the perpetual hedonistic emptiness of trying to buy life-fulfillment, the consuming of life. Relationships are shallow and individuals are being portrayed here as replaceable, just as products in the catalog.

Continue reading

Tagged , , , , , , , ,