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The Hawk News

The Student News Site of St. Joseph's University

The Hawk News

The Student News Site of St. Joseph's University

The Hawk News

Striving for wholesomeness


A generation built on deliberate kindness and nicety

The news was bad on Sept. 27: polluted runoff from Hurricane Florence ran through the ruined streets of North Carolina, a State Department report outlined the atrocities committed against the Rohingya people in Myanmar and Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh and accuser Christine Blasey Ford spent the day recounting their versions of events in a hearing that was emotional, polarizing and, for many survivors of sexual assault, deeply painful.

In response to what feels like day after day of this, tech developer Andrea Grimes started a Twitter thread with her followers, collecting and spreading wholesome memes.

Examples of these memes include the account “Thoughts of Dog,” which tweets in the simple, bad-spelling persona of a golden retriever, things like “if you don’t mind. i’m gonna love you a whole lot.” Others are surreal, but still warming, like the one of a man holding a trophy and a massive turnip, with the turnip labeled “my mental health that I have worked hard on improving.”

Connecting all these memes is the quality of wholesomeness, loosely defined as anything that is intentionally kind, warm, life-affirming and unironic.

And while everyone needs that kind of soothing content in their lives, the generation of us under 30 have a special, specific love for wholesome culture.

On one level, wholesomeness is a necessary balance to the world we’re in and the way we learn about it. A day of bad news and that constant grind of negativity takes a genuine toll. In 2017, the American Psychological Association found concerns about “the future of the nation” to be the most reported cause of stress.

Constant news updates via social media, news apps and cable news mean that we never have to stop consuming the news, because so much of the news ends up consuming us. Young Americans live in a world of ascendant dictators, irresponsible and predatory authority figures, political and social volatility, economic inequality and technological isolation. We’re expected to be ready to do jobs that don’t yet exist in a world that seems to make less sense every day.

When that realization leaves us numb, concerned and cynical, wholesomeness can lead us back to a calmer state of mind. Memes fill that need on social media, but music can be wholesome too. Chance the Rapper has developed into the straight shooting voice of a sincere generation, rapping about family, community and God with less and less ironic wrinkle. Wholesome content of every medium unites us around something we increasingly feel we need.

But while this explains the instrumental use of wholesomeness, it doesn’t explain its origin. Growing up, in any era, means moving from a smaller and comforting world to a bigger, more complicated and often more hurtful one.

For those of us under 30, that often meant moving from Nickelodeon and Cartoon Network to watching coverage of the Iraq War on TV and learning the word “terrorism” at a young age. It meant watching social media blossom, genuinely a change in how we perceive and experience reality and human interactions. And for many of us, it meant growing up in an era of divorced families, childhood drug prescriptions and school shooting drills.

We haven’t really reckoned, I think, with how unique our generation’s experience of the world has been: the world that we grew into was and is, one that’s changing faster than ever and in ways our caretakers didn’t and can’t understand.

In response to all this discord and rupture, our generation learned to appreciate this wholesomeness. I credit our parents with that. Parents of millenials often get a bad rap as the flawed adults who created the kids that cultural critics fret over.

Nebraska Senator Ben Sasse wrote a whole book on the flaws of modern parenting, worrying that parents fail to instill “scar tissue on the soul” of their kids by letting them put off their first job or their driver’s license.

And while Sasse definitely has his points, I think there’s another, more forgiving perspective on all of this. Families, by definition, want their children to succeed, to grow and be complete and become happy, healthy adults. Families of our generation weathered pain from outside and in recession-era and recovery-era economic stress, family struggles, mental illness and all the same old confusion I’ve expounded so far.

So parents tried to take care by doing more for kids, by reassuring them and building them up in safety to face a hostile world and by reminding them that the important values were out there. We’ve learned from our families that we can turn in and remind ourselves that there’s some wholesome truth to grab hold of.

Granted, whenever you talk about generations, or any other culturally big ideas, it’s easy to slip into generalizations, to paint in broad strokes and end up painting over people. Not all parents are Sasse’s loving coddlers and not all millennials live for wholesome content.

Irony is a common ingredient in our culture, for good as well as bad. But I’m convinced that us kids have a generational soft spot. I see it when Sixers fans applaud Markelle Fultz discussing his mental health issues. I see it when student after college student talks about their desire to work in the nonprofit field. And I see it when people share those indispensable wholesome memes with each other, in text conversations and dorm bulletin boards.

In response to a world that will only make less sense as we get more responsibility in it, let’s remember not to just be nice, or friendly, or even just unironic. Let’s recognize our need for wholesomeness and bring it to each other. As Frank Turner puts it, “In a world that has decided that it’s going to lose its mind / Be more kind, my friends, try to be more kind.”

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    Andrea GrimesOct 24, 2018 at 3:56 pm

    I am delighted that y’all enjoyed my twitter thread, but I am definitely not a tech developer.