Older generations have always been forthcoming in their observations and criticisms of younger generations–it seems to be an unavoidable side effect of growing up. Children don’t bother to categorize adults into generations, yet by the time one has entered middle age it suddenly becomes very important to differentiate between Generation X, Y, Z, and the other thing, because somewhere along the line one develops the powerful belief that one or other of these generations is responsible for everything wrong in the world today.
“Young people these days are so _________.”
Socrates was accused of corrupting the young people of Ancient Athens; perhaps the axiom of the era went something like, “Young people these days are so easily misled.”
Jesus’ disciples were shocked and concerned when Jesus showed compassion and care for children; perhaps children those days ought to be seen and not heard?
A commonly held attitude towards youth today seems to be less “young people are so corruptible” and more “young people are so corrupted”. This message is impossible to ignore: the media throws it at us with every headline wildly proclaiming the increase of youth crime, the evils of social media, and the degradation of our language and social etiquette.
If these pieces of information are to be taken literally, one cannot help but envision a future of chaos and imminent self-destruction, a dystopian landscape lacking both the warmth and the sophistication of former times.
What amazes me about this phenomenon is that despite this negative attitude towards young people and a stubborn nostalgia that has no room for forward-thinking, there still remains an insistence that we’ve done our piece and it’s time for the next generation to step in. Not only does this perspective deny the responsibility we all share for the environmental, social, and economical status of our Earth, it goes further by exempting certain groups from actively improving the world at all.
Take a local proposal to exempt senior citizens from paying school taxes. This is a micro example of this macro attitude: I’ve done my piece. Benefiting the larger society is no longer my concern.
I certainly don’t mean to imply that all people of a certain age have this attitude, or that senior citizens or any demographic in particular are the sole maintainers of this problematic world view. To take that stance would merely perpetuate the very ageism I am trying to debunk.
Rather, I am calling for a mobilization of intergenerational movements in the face of what can sometimes seem like an impossible divide. It’s almost funny how quickly these age barriers arise: I am working with grade twelve students right now, and they see themselves as immensely superior to even the grade ten students, whom many of the grade twelves perceive as immature at worst and “cute” at best.
Perhaps our society is not so different from the Ancient Athens of Socrates’ time: a society whose destruction was imminent, Socrates believed, due to the rampant individualism and self-interest of its citizens. It might seem counterintuitive in today’s competitive landscape to be part of a team or a movement, but I strongly believe it is only by learning to see each other’s strengths that we can make any progress in addressing our society’s weaknesses. Visionaries may arise from the wells of experience, the high wires of positive thinking, or anywhere in between, and the world will only become a better place for it.