JUST WHAT IS IT SUPPOSED TO MEAN?
I admit that I had to look this up some time ago. I presumed I knew what was meant but I found the phrase somewhat confusing, so I had to find out as I work on the theory of endeavouring, wherever possible, not to make assumptions.
Wikipedia tells us that it is ‘used to characterize the young adults of the 2010s as being more prone to taking offence and having less psychological resilience than previous generations, or as being too emotionally vulnerable to cope with views that challenge their own. The term is considered derogatory.’
Collins English Dictionary gives ‘the generation of people who became adults in the 2010s, viewed as being less resilient and more prone to taking offence than previous generations.’ including in its words of the year along with Brexit and hygge – which I admit I had to look up.
The Urban Dictionary defines snowflake millennials as –‘Really soft millennials who take offense to everything you say even if it doesn't apply to them. They feel the world owes them something because they always been handed everything, including participation trophies their whole lives.’ They go on to describe millennials as being either people born between 1981-1991 or between 1991-2001.
The word snowflake, with reference to people, is thought to have first come into common usage in the 1996 Chuck Palahniuk novel ’Fight Club’ and its subsequent film adaptation. Both included the line ‘You are not special. You are not a beautiful and unique snowflake’. Apparently snowflake had already been seen in several self-help books. A recognition of individuality and uniqueness in people. So, when did it spin to being the current derogatory term?
It seems that this probably began in the USA in 2016, as Snowflake Generation. This was following a book by Claire Fox in the same year, entitled ‘I Find That Offensive.’ and her use of the phrase ‘Generation Snowflake’ with reference to students’ reaction in defence of their complaints around Halloween costumes being ‘culturally insensitive’. Very much as a put-down aimed at a large group of people – a whole generation! Following this, Collins produced the definition which I gave earlier. It also appeared in the Financial Times’ ‘Year in a Word’ list in the same year. So seemingly, it sprang from obscurity to relatively common usage pretty swiftly.
A spin from a beautiful, natural feature in nature all the way round to a derogatory word thrown out, presumably in an effort to hurt, humiliate and put down others.
WHAT OF ‘ACTUAL’ SNOWFLAKES?
Yes, it is the weather at present that led me to think of snow, on to snowflakes and then to take one of my side-steps to the snowflake generation.
’Actual’ snowflakes are beautifully formed and beautifully individual, thought to be unique due to the randomness of their formation. I admit to finding this a very difficult fact to get my head around considering how many snowflakes there must have been over the past few days, let alone how many are lying over the surface of the world at present, without even dipping my toe into the thought of going back to the Ice Age and beyond! I have included a link to a recent interesting Huffpost article and video link on how snowflakes are formed – a combination of physics and randomness producing these wonderful miniscule structures. It really is worth a look.
I guess that most of us use the word snowflake for the white, petal-like structures that we see in a snow shower or battle against in a snow storm. In fact, these are made up of clumps of the tiny individual snowflakes both pretty in their own right. As light as a feather. It’s landing place, as it drifts down, is decided by the wind. It is out of their control whether they come to rest precariously balanced on a small twig or as part of a mountain covered in snow.
En masse however, they can change from these fragile, inoffensive entities. They can form a blizzard affecting many people, causing traffic mayhem and grinding towns, cities, railways, airports to a halt. En masse they can also lead to avalanches which, with their destructive power, can have disastrous consequences. Then there is the possibility of floods when the snow, each of those miniscule snowflakes, melts. Again, the great possibility of havoc being created, damage being done.
BACK TO THE CURRENT SPIN
It is felt by some that free speech is being seen as threatened in universities with some ‘outspoken’ speakers, including Germaine Greer and Peter Tatchell, currently not being invited to present. The blame is frequently laid at the feet of the snowflake generation. That they thought of such presenters’ opinions as being offensive or too controversial and only wish to hear speakers whose views represent their own. In the past, it is felt that such speakers would have been invited, listened to, probably with some barracking, but were more or less allowed the opportunity for free speech to take place.
There are claims that the name calling, the use of the word snowflake is causing mental health issues amongst the young reflected in a 2017 Telegraph article. I’m afraid that life is full of hard knocks for the vast majority of us, and the development of a healthy dose of resilience (the subject of the two following blogs!) would serve well, as currently I feel that equating with a fragile snowflake seems appropriate. Having said that I don’t agree with the old saying of ‘sticks and stones may break my bones, but names will never hurt me.’ I’m afraid that they can and do – and such hurt can be more difficult to heal than a physical one. Name calling whether aimed at one specific person or a group is unhelpful, and nobody likes it, no matter how gentle the original meaning of the word.
More recent definitions are beginning to describe snowflake as a political insult, this largely being since the Brexit debacle in UK and the election of Donald Trump in USA. The insult has been thrown from both political sides, though largely from the right. Variations come into play, with MEP Janice Atkinson using ‘snowflake nonsense’ to describe post-referendum emails she had received. In the States, certain news sites used the term against those who criticised Trump, especially his tweets. Trump himself was labelled a snowflake after he objected to the booing of Mike Pence, but guess that he does generally keep leaning on those open doors and then showing himself to be uber-sensitive!
What of snowflakes in the press? Tabloids such as ‘The Sun’ and ‘The Star’ have used the word to fire angst at celebrities and even at children struggling with mental health issues. It seems to spring to the lips of morning TV presenters and journalists alike, especially seemingly when tied in with reports of younger groups not drinking as much alcohol, choosing to have less sex. All seemingly part of an onslaught on the younger generation led by such as the afore mentioned Claire Fox who puts forth articles such as ‘Why Today’s Young Women Are Just So Feeble’. At least she does include that not every young person is a whinger having made her initial generalisation.
Her talk of cotton wool kids does lead me to wonder just how such young people have been brought up and has that upbringing actually done them any favours? However, I don’t feel that public finger pointing and name calling will improve attitudes. Rather it could well serve to further polarise opinion and I consider that after both Brexit and Trump there already is more than enough polarisation in UK and USA.
We need young adults to have an ability to be able to stand up for themselves, the things they value. At the same time, great for them to feel able to express a caring, more reflective side, and to feel that they can do this in public without having insults fired their way. In a way suitable for them, so long as legal, decent and honest! What some consider as being boring, sensible and young-fogeyish. This can fly in the face of those who have got to the top of their particular tree by elbow thrusting at the expense of others. Maybe including the name callers. However, they also require that healthy dose of resilience to give them the emotional security to be what they choose to be.
WAY OF THE WORLD?
Guess there have always been those who pick on the perceived easy targets. Sadly, by hurling the snowflake insults around, especially at what they consider to be the snowflake generation, they currently seem to be hitting a raw nerve of a relatively easy target. The ‘snowflakes’ claim to require safe places at university, in the work place – not required by our generation say accusers. Though, this may be felt to be necessary because of the world that they have created. One filled with conflict, angst and concerns for the future. However, it’s a matter of balance and this seems to be in short supply at present. What of respect, seemingly in short supply? Respect for different ways of being, of different ages, faiths, sexuality – but such respect has to be earned and I feel that this will not happen if insult flinging is the norm. The world is far from perfect and earlier generations have to accept a lot of blame for that – be it the pollution, the in-balance of wealth, the apparent greed of so many, often at the expense of others.
We need to accept that the younger generation are growing up in a world very different from the one in which we grew up, and one that continues to change apace. However, they need to accept that the earlier generations didn’t always have it good and most of us did the best job that we could with what was available to us at the time. We still need the thinkers, but we still need the doers, the grafters of the world. Those who get stuck in without whinging.
I feel that we probably need to take a close look at our parenting skills and the messages that these give to our children. We probably also need to look at teaching styles – I always did question the eliminating of competition and the use of liberally sprinkled rewards for not being the winner. The world away from white boards isn’t like this – and isn’t that what we are supposed to be preparing children for?
WORDS ARE POWERFUL
Remember the power of words – and that once said, they cannot be retracted. Let’s lose the vitriolic name calling. Let’s reclaim the word snowflake to simply describe that wonderful miracle of nature.
Let us tolerate opinions – listen to the words and hear them. A much more positive and achieving way of being than using them as barbed arrows with the aim of causing hurt.
PS – for those who, like me, didn’t know the meaning of hygge – it is ‘a quality of cosiness and comfortable conviviality that engenders a feeling of contentment or well-being’ …. Bring on the hygge I say!
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