The other day I listened to another adult rant about how terrible youth today are. She was my age (36). Back in the 1990s, she and I were subject to the same media demonization of our generation, railed against as “Generation X” and labelled slackers, we grew up with a bad name pinned to our commercialized lapels. To hear her lob insults at kids today, well, reminded me why I do what I do.
“So I simply don’t buy the concept of “Generation X” as the “lost generation.” I see too many good kids out there, kids who are ready and willing to do the right thing, just as Jack was. Their distractions are greater, though. There’s no more simple life with simple choices for the young.”— Johnny Cash
Over the last decade I have conducted an ongoing action research project focused on perceptions of young people. Parents and teachers, cops and lawyers, politicians and academics have all lined up to reveal their bias against young people simply because they are young, and because the adults are old. Youth have skewered themselves and their peers in front of me, degrading themselves and their peers with the same arguments of the adults around them. I have even heard young kids do this, and have seen the parental behavior that condones and expects this, too.
At the same time, I have seen the opposite, too: A finely balanced tight wire act focused on allowing young people to assume the roles they’re most comfortable with or the ones adults need for them to have throughout society. Meeting young people whose intellectual and emotional development allow them to lead powerful campaigns for systems change and cultural development has become a norm in my life, both as they make themselves known, and as I’ve come to know them.
It Can’t Last
All of this said, in our North American society we are simply dead wrong about the ways we treat young people.
“The American way of life is not sustainable. It doesn’t acknowledge that there is a world beyond America.” – Arundhati Roy
For millennia societies around the world have known this. They developed authentic responses to the various implications of young people, systematically teaching them their cultures, allowing them to mature at their own paces, and encouraging them to see themselves as the continuation and sustainability society. This directly opposes the North American behavior of treating young people as a cultural anomaly and inconvenience.
We are facing cataclysmic crises across our planet, more innumerable and loudly enumerated enough to not have to list here. Its the proportion of those realities that is duly set to overwhelm the masses. In order to address the situations that face every single one of us every single day, we must catalyze a new approach to social change. We must invigorate and activate new engines for change, new motivators and developers, organizers and leaders. We must turn to children and youth to lead our way forward.
The Greatest Resources
The fact of the matter is that we have simple used up all our current resource pools. People my age have become deeply indebted to the capitalist/consumerist systems we begrudge, and older people own them. The hippies who were going to liberate the planet have become saturated by the cultural messages designed to placate them, while our oldest elders maintain the mythology that since they were the “greatest generation” they can simply cruise towards death. That is just not true.
“Our answer is the world’s hope; it is to rely on youth… This world demands the qualities of youth: not a time of life but a state of mind, a temper of the will, a quality of the imagination, a predominance of courage over timidity, of the appetite for adventure over the love of ease.” – Senator Robert Kennedy
More than ever we need to turn to the source of the world’s hope for change. We must devise deft strategies to engage young people across the planet right now. I believe that this is ultimately our only hope. What about you?
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