Millennial Perfectionism And The Social Media Covenant Of Works

God, the real God, the God who is, in whose image we are made, however, is not fooled and he is not pleased with our cobbled-together righteousness.

Broadly speaking, perfectionism is an irrational desire for flawlessness, combined with harsh self-criticism. But on a deeper level, what sets a perfectionist apart from someone who is simply diligent or hard-working is a single-minded need to correct their own imperfections.

 

If you are a Millennial, relax. This is not another critique. I do spend a fair bit of time with Millennials, however, and I have observed some interesting trends. One of these observations was reinforced recently in an article by Thomas Curran and Andrew P. Hill, “How Perfectionism Became a Hidden Epidemic Among Young People.” They define perfectionism thus:

Broadly speaking, perfectionism is an irrational desire for flawlessness, combined with harsh self-criticism. But on a deeper level, what sets a perfectionist apart from someone who is simply diligent or hard-working is a single-minded need to correct their own imperfections.

They explain “perfectionists need to be told that they have achieved the best possible outcomes…”. As a teacher I have noticed this. To be sure, this tendency is not unique to Millennials but according the authors it does occur more frequently among Millennials. “[L]evels of perfectionism have risen significantly among young people since 1989.”

Their explanation of the cause strikes me as strained& dash;they blame it on the “neoliberalism” Margaret Thatcher, Ronald Reagan, and Brian Mulroney but their observation about the existence and growth of perfectionism resonates as true. I lived through the Regan era. The Nixon-Ford-Carter economies were inflationary and the first year or so of the Reagan era was very difficult but an abundance of jobs and an explosive growth in wealth was not nearly as stressful as high unemployment, low wages, high inflation, and high interest rates.

The generation(s) about which the authors are concerned have grown up in a very prosperous post-Reagan economy that even the Great Recession and the following stagnant economy was not able entirely to throttle. There is a substitute explanation for the sorts of pressures experienced by Millennials and others: computers and the internet. Computers themselves create an artificial reality. They create the illusion of perfection. Term papers that were once typed and marred with “White Out” and imperfect footnotes now may be made to look like published works. Software inserts perfect Chicago Manual of Style footnotes. Term papers are not actually perfect but they appear to be. Before computers I think expectations about what could be achieved in a term paper were a little lower. The very business of reducing everything to zeroes and ones, which is fundamentally what computers do, changes things. It changes our perception of how we live and how we remember (we now refer to our memories as “hard drives”).

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