I recently read an article by Frank Bures, “The Cost of Fame-Is Empathy a Casualty of our Self-centered Age?” This article reveals how our culture is changing and people along with it. He noted:
Over the years, people have looked at the "vast wasteland" of television and seen the approaching end of western civiliza¬tion. I try to take criticism of the medium with a grain of salt, but I recently came across some studies…two researchers at the University of California, Yalda Uhls and Patricia Greenfield, devised a way to measure the values expressed in U.S. television shows. Their idea was not that TV is a corrupt¬ing influence or a source of moral instruc¬tion, but a mirror that reflects our society back to us. Given how much the world has changed over the decades, you might not think that TV shows from the years 1967, 1977, 1987, and 1997 would have much in common. But they did. Taking the two most popular programs for tweens (a person who is between the ages of 10 to 12 years old) from each of those years, as well as from 2007, Uhls and Greenfield looked for 16 values demonstrated by the characters, such as benevo¬lence, popularity, community feel¬ing, financial success, tradition, and fame. For the first four decades, the shows were fairly consistent! Community feeling was the top value for all of them except 1987, when it ranked second. Benevo¬lence and tradition were consis¬tently at the top. Meanwhile, fame ranked 15th in 1967, 1987, and 1997 (in 1977, it was 13th.) Achievement and financial success hovered around the bottom half of the list; they were never dominant forces in the characters' lives. By 2007, however, community feeling had dropped to the 11th spot. Benevo¬lence had fallen to 12th, and tradition to 15th. Financial success had jumped from 12th to 5th since 1997, achievement to 2nd, and fame to 1st.
In the age of American Idol, you might have expected as much — and the re¬searchers did, in fact, anticipate that in¬dividualist values would have moved upward. But they were surprised by the magnitude of the change. ‘If you believe that television reflects the culture, as I do,’ Uhls says, ‘then American culture has changed drastically.’ There are a slew of related trends. Nar¬cissism has been rising for several decades. In the early 1950s, only 12 percent of teens ages 14-16 agreed with the statement "I am an important person." By the late 1980s, 80 percent did. We are also seeing decreases in empa¬thy. One study found that from 1979 to 2009, college students “empathetic con¬cern" (the capacity to feel what others are feeling) dropped 48 percent, and their "perspective taking" (the ability to see from another's point of view) declined by 34 percent. Psychologist Sara Konrath summed this up as an "empathy paradox," in which we are finding "increasing disconnection in the age of connection."
What might these changes mean to us?
1. The self-esteem movement of the 1980s (research shows) did little good. High self-esteem doesn't lead to academic achievement, good be¬havior, or less violence. Self-esteem is usually the result of work and accomplishment, not the cause of it. Thus, we need to focus less on self-esteem and concentrate more on self-control and self-discipline.
2. Our society, over the last 40 years, has produced a culture of young people who value financial success, achievement, and fame. How sad that this has led young people down a narcissistic road that feeds individualism and self-centeredness. Christianity combats those attitudes with selfless love, service, and thinking about others. Thus, Christians must be beacons of light to this dark culture.
3. Finally, real morals and values do not come from culture, but the Word of God. Our world’s morals and values have changed over the last 40 years, but God’s morals and values have not (although the world is trying to change them). A believer in Jesus Christ should not let culture mold him or her (Ro 12: 2), but should transform (Ro 12:2) the morals of this world and be an example of godliness to others.
As we start the year, may we anchor our values on the Bible and use them to change our culture, rather than having our culture set the trends for our values.
-Pastor Mike Kotrla