It goes without saying that we will in a consumer paradise, a culture of sheer spectacle where everyone and everything is a commodity, and thus has can be bought and sold. And the anthem YOLO perfectly captures this. It expresses teen and young adult angst, apathy, and disillusionment with a retail culture whose promises of fulfillment and success have long since been revealed to be bankrupt and hollow.
Now I don't think the solution is "YOLF," as I joked with a student of mine--"You only live forever"--a pseudo-Buddhist appropriation of YOLO. That's just the opposites game. What kids need, and our entire civilization for that matter, is a realistic way to balance power, freedom, ethics, and responsibility. (Ready? Wait...wait....Here comes my Buddhism plug. GO!)
Personally, I think that Buddhism offers just that. It's a radical path for self-transformation. And if the Buddha story reveals anything, it's that one person can make a difference. Change and hope can begin in one heart, and then spread like seeds on the winds.
Still, is Buddhism a cure-all? I feel naive saying yes, for as Owen Flanagan points out in The Bodhisatttva's Brain, Buddhism has been historically weak on the political and social ends of things. Which is fine; that's never been the purview or focus of Buddhism. It's simply not Buddhism's function, which is why I'm hesitant to offer it as a panacea.
That said, I do think that this generation needs a compass to help guide them through this existential malaise. Rabid consumerism, after all, is not a far cry from frightened or disillusioned nihilism.
So how do we help, not just as Buddhists, but as human beings who have a vested interest in helping people, not for the perpetuation of the species and this planet, but because that's our inner nature operating at its fullest potential? (There was a question in there somewhere, I'm sure.) In America, education has long been touted as the great equalizer, but in the 21st century schools are quickly becoming yet another field for corporations to wage their colonial expansion. Which in some ways, I think, YOLO is a direct response to. Kids are smart; they know a sham when they see one. So where does that leave us?
At its heart, YOLO expresses this generation's hopelessness. And can you blame them? The global economy is in shambles, celebrity and sports heroes are as much products as those they endorse, the American political scene is a farce... and the list goes on.
And still, we must try. Bodhisattvas vow to save all sentient beings, starting now. Whether we live once or for countless samsaric lifetimes doesn't matter. Once, forever, these are ideas, more opposites.
I don't claim to have the solution, because I don't know if there is a solution. This world needs a lot of help, not just spiritual healing. There is work to be done in every imaginable dimension--social, political, racial, personal, judicial, financial, and on and on.
But I firmly believe that the fertile soil for responsible, wise, compassionate action is nowhere but right here, right now. The Buddha's life story teaches us that one person can create a revolution. So let's dig our toes into the loam and help. Any way that we can.
With open hands and open hearts.
Photo taken from "faded-jeans" @ http://www.lolbrary.com/post/18284/yolo-dawg/.