One of the hidden benefits of teaching high school is an increased awareness of pop culture trends. That's how I came to know the slogan "you only live once" or YOLO. On the surface, it sounds like an updated version of "carpe diem." And as we passed through another anniversary of September 11th yesterday, such a motto seems not only reasonable, but perhaps admirable and even righteous.
But what I haven't shared yet is the context of my "education" about YOLO: a class discussion on the morality of teenage use of alcohol and drugs. You see, YOLO is the rationalization of the moment for young adult rebellion and experimentation. Which is why you're most likely to hear it being shouted by drunks at a frat party.
The problem is not with the phrase itself. I'm sure "carpe diem" was also used as an excuse for irresponsibility when it was first popularized. Living each day as if it were your last is a noble concept, if your definition of a good life is full of noble values. Part of what we memorialize each September 11th is the nobility of sacrificing one's life for the sake of others. We do this because it allows us to forget that every other day we are surrounded by a superficial culture, full of trivialities, that we have painstakingly created. Is it any wonder that our youth use YOLO the way they do?
What if YOLO was used instead to celebrate acts of service, kindness, forgiveness, compassion, mercy, and generosity? What if YOLO was used as a sign of honor for those who, on September 11, 2001 and every day before and since, lived the truth Jesus shared with us: "No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends." I'd say that was the ultimate YOLO.