We are in the midst of a pandemic that is costing our nation tens of thousands of lives and which has devastated our economy. What possible silver lining could there be? Is it impolitic to even suggest one, even as we fight a war against Coronavirus? I believe it is not only permissible, but helpful, to consider the longer-term effects of this pandemic—not only in terms of the trouble we face and will face, but also in terms of how it will strengthen our nation and our culture.
Consider this: Adolescents, teenagers and young adults are living through extreme stresses—unprecedented stresses, in a way—while still connecting with their friends through social media, still completing coursework online, still interviewing for jobs (virtually), still going to work at jobs deemed essential and still planning their futures—including starting college, starting careers and moving to other cities.
Yes, all the young people in these age groups are also encountering massive challenges, including anxiety about being infected by the virus, disappointment about missing friends, scuttled graduation ceremonies, the isolation of working from home or losing jobs. But so many of them -millions of them- are bearing those burdens while remaining optimistic and moving forward, in the ways they can.
Seen this way, we have an army of young people—Generation Corona, if you will—who could turn out to be one of America’s (and the world’s) greatest generations. They are being tested. They are experiencing pain. And they may turn out to be extraordinarily powerful, as a result—realistic, concerned for others, courageous and creative in ways we can only imagine, at this point.
I am not being Pollyanna here. I know living through crises can also set the stage for emotional challenges years in the future. I practiced psychiatry for more than 25 years before founding Pain-2-Power. But why would the pessimistic view of Generation Corona be the more realistic one? Personally, I don’t think that it is. I believe in resiliency. I believe in comeback stories. And I believe in the potential of these young people.
Abraham Lincoln once wrote a letter to his son’s headmaster that captures some of what I think may be at work in Generation Corona:
Treat him gently, but do not coddle him, because only the test of fire makes fine steel. Let him have the courage to be impatient… let him have the patience to be brave. Teach him always to have sublime faith in himself, because then he will always have sublime faith in mankind. This is a big order, but see what you can do…
No one wanted Coronavirus as a teacher. Everyone would have us rid of it today, if we could. But as we contemplate a world changed by it, let’s not forget that the souls of our young are being changed by it, too—and not only in ways they, or we, will forever regret.
Dr. Keith Ablow