Academics & VocationStudent Culture, Trends & Issues

Are Today’s Students “Comfortably Numb” to the Needs of the World?

During a recent visit to our campus, Steve Garber engaged students in a series of dialogues designed to get them thinking about the needs of the world and how God might want to use them — in some way — to make a difference.

But one of the big issues he identified was that:

Many of today’s young people have turned down the ‘barometer of their heart’ in order to deal with what they cannot make sense of.

In our info and media saturated culture — where we can get global news as it happens (right in the palm of our hands) — students are bombarded with images and realities that they struggle to know what to do with…

They see reports and images of kids being sold into the sex trade, AIDS in Africa, starvation and malnutrition, child soldiers, threats of nuclear war and on and on and on…

It’s overwhelming for me… as someone much closer to 40 than 20.

And for our students… in order to cope… many are turning down the barometer of the heart to the point where they can see all that they see — and hear all that they hear — without it knocking them for a loop.

They’re dialing back their ability to feel, because it would simply be too much if they didn’t.

And as the stories continue to flood their world… they continue to attempt to control it… which is resulting in a generation becoming numb.

No, it’s not true of all of them… but a large percentage for sure.

And can we really blame them?

How else could you expect to exist in this world with all of the atrocities that seem to daily plague our planet?

And what does it all mean in regards to God’s ability to work in the world? Doesn’t He care???

I wonder if a part of the coping — a part of the becoming “comfortably numb” —  has just as much to do with not knowing how to comprehend a God that would allow such brutality and pain to exist, as it is them attempting to deal with the raw emotion of seeing story after story after story of some of the worst in our world.

Learning to understand all of the pain and hardship in the world is one thing… but trying to figure out how an all-powerful and all-loving God could allow it to happen (and continue to happen) is something totally different.

So I wonder…

How do we respond as people who have been called to walk with students?

How do we model for our students a way of living and being in this world that acknowledges the pain and suffering that exists, while still believing in the power and love of God?

How can we encourage (or challenge) our students who might believe that “comfortably numb” is an OK way to exist?


  • Its hard because I have heard the complete opposite….our students are globally aware and sensitive to the needs around them and want to give back.  The greatest of any generation.  They are anxious to be involved in humanitarian efforts…..this article seems to say the opposite, so which is it?  Globally aware and focused on humanitarian needs or comfortably numb to the needs of the world?  which is it?  Cannot have it both ways…

    • Hey David!

      You’re right. There is a lot of conflicting information out there. Of this most current student generation I have most recently heard that while they are by far the most informed (or aware) student generation… they are also a lot less actively engaged in helping to meet the needs of the world. Of course there are always going to be exceptions to this rule, but that seems to be the case.

      A good case in point is the environment… This generation of students is much more aware of the damage that has been done, and is being done, as well as some of the practical ways that they can make a difference. But I heard a report recently that said that they are the least environmentally engaged generation in the past 30 years.

      There’s a part of me that wonders if this current generation is looking for their own crisis or cause to be about. Maybe they believe that the environment is an issue that’s already being adequately addressed by older generations… so they can go on to something else. But some would argue that a growing percentage of students are simply paralyzed by the overwhelming need they see in the world… and a lack of belief that they can do anything about it.

      What do you think?

      • again– I don’t know what the number is.  And to the idea of more aware but less engaged it feels like there are conflicting opinions ranging from…
        They are engaged and active says Thomas Rainer…or so this blog claims.

        Or forced to volunteer…so more are active because their school tells them to,

        or less engaged than previous generations.

        Gets confusing.  And its hard to put anyone in a box, but there is something to be said about statistics.  For me and helping students connect it is continually seeing them fall in love with Jesus and providing tangible ways to serve in their community….not because they have to but because of an overflow of joy that expresses itself in love of their community.   Not as a invite everyone program, but as an organic bridge to serve the community as an extension of the church.  Humanitarians love.  Altruists love.  Christians love as an overflow of the joy found in God.  Feels like modeling this and talking about this is at least a place to start.