For a generation of Americans as pathetically self-absorbed as the current generation, the concept of social media came along at just the right time. It’s all about me is the unstated motto of today’s young people—as well as plenty of older people—and nothing empowers, enables, and reinforces this narcissistic attitude more than social media. Social media outlets were made for self-important people who think the world should be interested in their every thought, word, and deed, which is why so many young people in America are addicted to Facebook, Twitter, and the various other outlets.
Selfies are the latest craze of social media addicts. Even President Obama has gotten into the act. Embarrassment does not begin to describe what I feel when the President of the United States is seen grinning from ear to ear while snapping selfies like some mindless, self-absorbed teenager; although I guess I shouldn’t be surprised. There is only one reason for taking selfies and then circulating them worldwide on social media outlets. That reason is to say “look at me, look at me, look at me.” Could there be a better—make that worse—example of self-absorption and narcissism than this? What has happened to humility in this country? What has happened to personal privacy? I recently talked to a young couple who plans to video the birth of their first child and post the video on social media sites. I suspect (or at least hope) there will come a day when the mother involved will regret this decision.
Americans have become so self-absorbed that they even video themselves committing crimes and post the videos on social media sites for all the world to see—which of course is the point. As a result, social media is now the first place law enforcement officials look when trying to track down criminals. In many cases, Police detectives no longer have to apply their investigative skills. Rather, all they have to do is wait an hour or two and the criminals in question will provide proof of their perfidy along with their identities on Facebook and other sites. If you would like to be the next Sherlock Holmes forget about developing detective skills, just open a social media account.
Every time I see a young person hunkered down over an electronic device scrolling through inane photographs and mindless videos posted by social media addicts, I cannot help but think about Nicholas Winton. Chances are you have never heard of Mr. Winton, and that is just the way he wants it. Winton is the polar opposite of today’s self-absorbed social media addict. First, the things he has done in life really matter and deserve the attention and appreciation of the world, and second he is a man of character and great humility who spurns the public spotlight. Hence, he is reluctant to discuss the incredible life-saving deeds he performed during World War II.
In December 1938 Winton, a stockbroker in London, was preparing to leave for a skiing trip to Switzerland when a call from a friend changed his life, and the lives of more than 600 children who otherwise may have perished in Hitler’s death camps. In a prelude to World War II, Hitler annexed a part of Czechoslovakia known as the Sudetenland. Soon Jews and other innocent people Hitler labeled as enemies of Nazi Germany were being rounded up and sent to concentration camps. Winton knew that war was inevitable and that the herding of Jewish families into concentration camps would just increase. The thought of little children being locked up in concentration camps where they would probably die of starvation or be worked to death was more than this good man could bear.
Czechoslovakian parents knew what was coming. They could not escape because Hitler had plans for them—slave labor. But perhaps with help they might save their children. This is where Winton came in. Stirred to action, he set up an office in Prague and began processing the paperwork to bring hundreds of children out of Czechoslovakia and relocate them to safe homes in Britain and Sweden. At the same time he worked to raise the money that would be needed to cover the costs of travel and the relocation fees required before a child could be moved. He also had to find a foster home for every child he wanted to rescue. The difficulties Winton encountered were legion, but he persevered. After much hard work, the first transport of children left Prague for Britain on March 14, 1939. By the time Hitler’s invading army closed down his operation, Winton had overseen the rescue of 669 Czechoslovakian children.
You have probably heard of Oscar Schindler and the good work he did saving Jews from Hitler’s clutches during World War II. There are books and a movie made about his courageous humanitarian exploits. But Nicholas Winton is not so well known for the sole reason that he wanted it that way. A man of character and humility, Winton never talked with anyone about his rescue operation—not even his wife. He did what he did because it was the right thing to do, not because he wanted the praise or adulation that he, in fact, so richly deserved. Even the children he rescued did not know who he was or what he had done for them. The only reason the world has even heard of Nicholas Winton is because his wife found a trunk in their attic containing the names of the children he rescued and various other types of paperwork that describe the operation in detail.
Contrast the quiet dignity, humility, and courage of Nicholas Winton with the shallow, self-congratulatory attitudes of selfie junkies. Having done that, consider one more aspect of this sad comparison. Some of today’s social media addicts are so committed to their look-at-me, look-at-me lifestyles that they have stooped to filming people being robbed, beaten, or otherwise abused and then posted their videos on social media sites rather than going to the aid of the victims. I fear that America and the world have lost something very valuable: humility and strength of character. Were Nicholas Winton like today’s social media junkies, he would have simply filmed the Czechoslovakian children being herded off to death camps, posted the videos on social media sites, and patted himself on the back for being the first to get the videos posted.
The Greatest Generation of which Nicholas Winton is a part saved not just the children of Czechoslovakia, they saved the world. Then they came home and went to work building families, careers, and communities. Not only did they stiff arm the praise and adulation they so rightly deserved, they refused to even talk about what they had done. There is a lesson in this for today’s narcissistic generation. If I could only figure out how to put the lesson on Facebook maybe they would get it, but then again, probably not.