I don’t usually dig into political debate, and I don’t intend to here, but I recently read The Vanishing American Adult from Senator Ben Sasse. It’s telling that I felt it necessary to preface this post with a bit of a disclaimer, isn’t it? We really need to do a better job of hearing the dissenting voices around us rather than just snapping on the noise canceling headphones and climbing into the echo chambers that repeat to us exactly what we want to hear. That’s not to say that Sasse is, for me, a voice of dissent or an echo chamber, but rather that many will fail to grasp what he says simply because he is a Senator, a conservative, or a Republican. They’ll think he must be writing from a particular viewpoint that they already know they are against, and so, will not hear clearly through the muck of pre-formed opinions based on what particular label they assign to him.
One of the things I appreciated about the book was Sasse’s ability to seek and to share genuine understanding of opposing positions. It’s a refreshingly adult way to approach differences, which gets to the heart of what the book is about in the first place: raising adults. How can we better prepare the next generation to face the rigors of life? We have not been doing a great job at this and Sasse offers hopeful paths toward a better way for parents, teachers, coaches… for American society to equip the next generation of citizens to be more than self-absorbed consumers.
We are going to need America’s children to rise to their best in the years to come, because a nation of adult-children cannot be a nation of self-governing people…
A republic is the only form of government, the only social arrangement, that seeks to make individuals preeminent in their own self-control, their own self-possession. A republic is thus at once liberating and scary. For it both requires and assumes adults, not subjects. And this is a rare state of affairs in political history.
– Ben Sasse, The Vanishing American Adult
Having worked with youth for the last 20 years, I see so many lights of hope in the next generation. But we need to do a better job of helping our young people toughen up enough to hold on to their hope when life gets difficult. Self-reliance doesn’t just happen by accident. It happens when we walk with our kids through a process of teaching, mentoring, and coaching them to set aside the drive for instant gratification and remain determined to progress in a certain direction. Sasse offers some helpful guidance about how we can do this via real education, travel, meaningful work, and a host of other life long learning practices.
If you have a stake in the success of the future generations of Americans (we all do), you’ll find much to appreciate in this book.