The trial of sixteen frat boys for the death of 19-year-old Timothy Piazza has shocked and disgusted the public. To anyone unfamiliar with the details, Piazza died after falling down multiple times during a night of binge-drinking and hazing, most damagingly down a flight of stairs. His fraternity “brothers” ignored him as he lay dying of brain and internal injuries; they even threatened one who wanted to take him to the hospital. As he struggled for his life the other boys in the room desperately tried to cover up the night’s activities; security footage shows Piazza curling into the fetal position, holding his stomach, holding his head, trying to get up and walk out of the building, but falling down over and over and slamming into things. 911 was called twelve hours after Piazza’s fall, and he died in the hospital.
It is chilling to realize that this occurred on an American college campus. It raises a huge question, one that parents must consider: what is happening to American youth culture that breeds such grotesque selfishness? I believe it is evidence of the ultimate end that social media will produce: a generation devoid of character. Character building does not occur on social media. Social media has made everyone feel like a reality star: every meal is styled and photographed before it’s eaten, every workout humble-bragged to the world, selfies are filtered and retouched, and we are losing our authenticity. FOMO, or Fear Of Missing Out, is really hypercompetition to have the best, most Instagrammable life-keeping up with the Joneses is going at breakneck speed. In lives consumed by self, appearances, and materialism, that “inside that counts” is starved to death, leaving a moral rot in its place.
This obsession with self is more than unhealthy; it can have heartbreaking results, as evidenced by the Piazza family’s loss. I don’t believe any of those boys in the room with Timothy Piazza had criminal intentions or would describe themselves as cruel or heartless; they were simply taking care of themselves before anyone else, even someone who needed help so desperately. After all, society has extolled the virtue of self-esteem far more than noble qualities like moral courage, self-discipline, honesty, and faith in God. Heroes of history are all but forgotten, and celebrities are upheld as heroes for donating pocket change to charity.
Our children must read books. Expose them to history: for starters, I recommend A History of the American People by Paul Johnson, and anything by Albert Marrin. We must teach them of God’s high calling. We can’t be afraid to expose them to human suffering; getting some perspective on their own problems is healthy and will hopefully spark a desire to help others. Our children should place an incredibly high value on family, for beside God, what else is more important? We must teach them that it’s not a crime to be inconvenienced, because our schedules are not so important that we can’t make room to help a friend. And parents, let’s face it: to teach our children the deep things of life, we can’t be splashing around in the shallow end ourselves.
At his commencement address to the 1996 graduates of the College of William and Mary, the late Justice Antonin Scalia said: “Bear in mind that brains and learning, like muscle and physical skill, are articles of commerce. They are bought and sold. You can hire them by the year or by the hour. The only thing in the world not for sale is character.”