Misery, suffering needed to cure kids' 'emptiness'

April 22, 1994|By MIKE ROYKO

While chatting with a young audience on MTV, President Clinton was asked about the deep sense of "emptiness" that so many youths feel in their lives.

The president responded with an upbeat pep talk, urging young people to shun cynicism and look to a brighter future.

It will take more than pep talks and inspirational slogans to cure the widespread emotional blahs that allegedly afflict millions of young Americans.

Because of the seriousness of this problem, I recently discussed with Dr. I.M. Kookie, the world-renowned expert on lots of stuff.

Here are portions of our conversation:

Why do so many young people have a deep sense of emptiness in their lives?

"Because they don't suffer and feel miserable."

But they say that they do suffer and feel miserable because of the sense of emptiness.

"That is a bad diagnosis. The fact is, their sense of emptiness is brought on by a lack of misery and suffering. If they were genuinely miserable, they would not feel emptiness. There is nothing that cures a sense of emptiness like true misery and suffering."

Are you saying misery and suffering can be beneficial?

"Absolutely. Check out all of the top saints and martyrs of history. You think they got to be saints and martyrs by playing Nintendo, slouching around a mall, listening to self-pity rock music and whining about emptiness? No, they got out there and really suffered. I'm talking heavy pain and agony. It's kind of like clearing the emotional sinuses."

But nobody wants to experience misery and suffering.

"That's right. Just like nobody really wants to eat their vegetables. What would you rather eat -- a banana split or a bowl of broccoli? Would you rather spend an hour hoofing and sweating on an exercise treadmill or an hour consorting with a lewd woman? Well, it is the same thing with misery and suffering. It is good for you, but most young people don't get their daily dosage, so they have a serious misery and suffering emotional dietary deficiency."

But how did this deficiency come about? And how can it be cured?

"Well, before we get to those questions, first we must identify the group that is most afflicted."

And that is?

"Well, it is not the minorities. Young blacks and Hispanics don't have time to feel emptiness. They are too busy hustling to survive and get ahead any way they can. That is why you never see a Jamal or a Jose on TV saying they have a sense of emptiness, except when they are really hungry. And you don't see any Asian kids saying it, because their parents will give them a karate chop if they don't get straight A's and keep up with their violin lessons."

So you are saying this sense of emptiness is limited to whites?

"Pretty much so, except for those rural folk who, in less sensitive times, we called hillbillies. They cure a sense of emptiness by beer-gutting at the local roadhouse, getting in bottle-fights, and catching lunker bass and catfish.

Then it is the white, middle-class American suburban youth who suffers from this strange internal emptiness?

"That's right.

But how did we create this problem and what is the cure?

"The worst mistake we made was eliminating the military draft. You ever hear a young Marine talking about inner emptiness? For pure misery and suffering, there is nothing like being awakened at 5:30 a.m. by a beady-eyed drill sergeant and having to run one mile to breakfast. And that turns out to be the best part of the day."

Maybe, but many of today's parents are former flower children, and they would not abide their offspring being hauled away and forced into the indignities of military service.

"Did anyone ask the Baby Boomer parents -- 'Hey, how about we take your Generation X mall-walking teen-agers off your hands for a couple of years and make them suffer and be miserable to make them feel good'?"

I'm sure they would be appalled at the thought.

"And I'm sure that they'd buy the drill sergeant a bottle of moonshine."

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