While watching a TV show on Hulu, I came across a millennial audience-oriented Diet Coke commercial. It portrays a young woman purveying a very attractive and appealing message for many young people. She encourages young adults to “do you…whatever that might mean for you.” It ends with the seems-to-be appealing, yet very ambiguous, message: “Because you can.” While it seems attractive, and perhaps the company has spent a lot of money to research on how to effectively reach out to the certain demographic, yet this is where the real problem of our post-modern society lies… Even though it sounds nice, it really means nothing and the message remain very ambiguous.
Through this one commercial, we can sense the underlying tone and message of what our society is telling our young people. There seem to be a lot of appealing and attractive message and “conversations,” yet most of them lack substance and clarity. Perhaps clarity and definition in a young person’s mind equal to the “traditional” restrictions, oppression, and lack of freedom, and that is why companies prefer to leave things ambiguous so they can be free to define whatever they want by themselves.
Yet, as a priest, I often get to see many young people who end on the other side of the confessional or across my desk, devastated by what they thought the message of “do you” would bring them. They broke down or are lost because they have no idea where they are going or because they had done things that they regret. It all began when they wanted to try out new things. They, for one reason or another, entered into harmful, meaningless, and toxic relationships for the sake of liberation from old norms. They had continuously hopped from one new trend to the next as if to be on the cutting edge, being progressive, and pushing the envelope are giving them unbound and unknown freedom and happiness. They had pushed themselves to the point of no longer knowing who they are by compromising their values and letting go of what was dear to them, hoping to find happiness in new things. In this new age, the ultimate freedom and epitome of what means to be humans are not being bound by any conventional wisdom and traditions, as if to be non-binary in every sense of the word is the ultimate goal. Yet, after all that has been said and done, many of those people still end empty, unhappy, and lost, if not hurt, depressed, locked into their own self-created despair, resentment, and cynicism. The freedom and liberation that begin with the self often bring them to an unknown place of hopelessness and joylessness. They thought what can make them happy always end up makes them more bitter and lost. Even though the freedom to define one’s self seems appealing and liberating, it has no substance and no clear definition nor support of what is required.
At those moments, many young people end up with two choices. The first and most obvious choice is to remain as they are. They either are too scared to change or too committed to the given lifestyle that they just want to continue with the self-based definition of “doing me,” hoping that they can strike something new that will give them happiness and contentment. This is the classic textbook definition of a self-created psychological insanity, trying to do the same thing over and over again while hoping for a different result. Yet, the reality is a little bit more complex than that. We have to admit that it is our society that has failed them because it has failed in its duties to truly form young people and empower them with the tools to do what is right. By choosing utilitarianism, pragmatism, and secularism, we have objectified people and treat them simply as tools and things to be used and appealed to. Many people stop caring about greater responsibility or the higher truth, as long as they get what they want, able to sell their products, influence their messages, gain attention for their ideologies, or make some types of short-run revolutions in the desired or calculated time frame or goal.
When society no longer desires to seek eternal, transcendental, and objective truths, it becomes silence on important matters and vocal on ambiguous noises to make it sounds like it is doing something. When it no longer admits and owns up to the real responsibilities of raising and nurturing virtuous people because it is lost, it chooses to say things that sound good and portrays itself busy doing things in order to hide its real existential problems. When society is broken and plagued with mistrusts, politicians choose sophistry to act like they are doing something as a way to protect their interests and assets while leaving every person to him or herself to define the subjective interpretation of what things mean. Smokes and shadows are simply coverups of the problematic elephant in the room as well as its social loss of meanings and substance. Yet, the young people are left clueless, lost, and unhappy, unable to truly cope, understand, and comprehend the deeper issues at hand.
We have trained our young people to become objective tools and parts to make society run. It withheld from them the truth and stopped them from seeking wisdom. We teach them from of young to be successful and to achieve more recognition by being the best that they can and do whatever they can to earn others’ respect and admiration. We have objectified success in order to build up self-esteem and define success without telling them what is really important. More certificates, more abbreviations after their names, more influences over people, yet many are still unhappy and empty deep inside. They do not know how to enjoy life as it is and how to be loved. They are restless and constantly moving from one relationship to another. They cannot have long lasting relationships and friendships because they let go and move on when they sense that they do not get what they want. Nothing is everlasting because they have been taught to move on and change one’s mind constantly as they “do me” and “find and define my own happiness.” It is a vicious cycle that leads to more depression, psychological disorders, and sociological dysfunctions in our society. Psychologists and sociologists’ definition books are growing longer every day without real solutions to how to solve them, except real be there to help them to cope and process through some things. This is the existential crisis and problem that many people do not choose to see because we have created a confused and unhealthy codependent social system and setup of constant fluxes that is motivated and grounded in ambiguity.
It hurts, but many times, I had to let people go on to their ways because they are too scared to change or let go of what they have believed to be the humanistic version of happiness. It does not help to try to change one’s perspective if one does not desire to change. I, myself, went through that road before (many times in the past). Sometimes it seems better to stay with the things we seem to know than to seek help, take the leap of faith, and journey down to something that is beyond what we are used to. I was like the rich young man in the Gospel of Saint Matthew (19:16-22) who walked away sad because I was not ready to let go of my baggage. It took time but I had to make a choice of dealing with what I had accumulated over the years and sweep things out from under the carpet. Therefore, I do sympathize and can relate to why many people choose to walk away because they are not ready. At those situations, all I can do is to pray for them, that they will continue to listen to the voice of God speaking to their conscience so they can seek the truth that their soul and heart have been yearning for so long.
The second choice that many people who come, of course, is to seek helps in a holistic way. Just as our body and psyche are connected to our soul, we have to deal with these matters in an integral (humanly and spiritual) way so that the hurts and baggage of the past are dealt psychologically and prayerfully. It is not an easy nor quick process. It takes a lot of patience with one’s self to learn to listen, understand, sift through, and discern the will of God with what happened in the past, now, and for the future. This is a spiritual cathartic process that is both hurtful and healing at the same time. It hurts to look at the past, to sift through memories that we have tried to ignore, bury, or forget as well as to learn to look at ourselves and who we are in a new way. It is also a learning process that will seem frustrating and discouraging a lot of times because we have to be taught how to pray and think differently than what has been given, sold, and taught to us by the world. That is why those who came to simply seek a quick solution and answer will walk away empty because this is a change of lifestyle, thinking, and embracing one’s true identity deep from within. It is both an unlearning and relearning of what God teaches as we deepen and put into practice a new holistic skill set. Without a doubt, patience is crucial in our search for wisdom and perseverance is important for our spiritual growth in the love of God. This is truly the road less desired by many, but this is the only way that the saints had taken.
Ask yourself these questions:
- Do I know who I really am and what I am called to be?
- Am I living for something higher than myself and the desires of immediate gratification?
- How I am living? Is my life fulfilling, life-giving, and able to nourish both my body and soul?
- Am I able to give myself in relationships genuinely and without reservations, especially without the hindrances of manipulation or objectification of others or myself?
- Am I able to live for others and help those who are around me mature, grow our relationships, and form our society for something greater than what is seemingly beneficial for us now?
Only in the love of God that we learn how to truly be free without having to worry too much about what we have to be to appeal and gain the recognition of others. Our “I” will learn to let go of itself in order to meet the “thou” of God as we become renewed, transformed, reformed by the grace of this transcendental encounter and everlasting love. This intimate and heartfelt encounter grounds us in the new sense of communion of “we” with God and with those who are around us. Through the love of God, we no longer need to worry about doing something but being who we truly are — children of God the Father, disciples of the Jesus Christ, and instruments of the Holy Spirit. In our communion and relationship with the God of truth, we become free from the things of this world that held us down by manipulations, deceptions, and codependency so we can truly love as we are. This is something that cannot be explained or understood right away, it has to be experienced and learned in a new way as we will and desire the everlasting relationship with God that is beyond the fluxes and noises of this world.
Therefore, I pray for those who are on the edge of being burnt out by the falsity of secularistic subjectivism, emptiness of words, and noises of nothingness. I pray for courage and humility to let go and learn to live in the true freedom as children of God so we can love and be brothers and sisters to those who are around us by the way we give ourselves genuinely and without self-centered worries. I would like to end this reflection with the words of the Lord Jesus Christ from the Gospel of Saint John. Please know that I am praying for you. Do not be afraid for you are not alone! Take courage and be stouthearted in the Lord.
“But I am not alone, because the Father is with me. I have told you this so that you might have peace in me. In the world, you will have trouble, but take courage, I have conquered the world.” (16:32-33)