There are many fine things about being young, robust good health, beauty, and the ease that we take on friends and lovers. Youth feels immortal, like it too will not succumb as we age, always feeling young in our hearts.
Youth questions authority and often sneers at institutions like the government or organized religion. However, it is the rare young person to see how conformist youth’s non conformity is, and how intolerant of differences it may be. We are all being conformingly anti conformist by listening to rock, by wearing our hair long (boys), short (girls) or wearing bell bottomed pants when our mothers are telling us to wear skirts.
Youth is, of course, a perpetual occurrence that we must all pass through. Nor has it changed much in 2 millenia. Socrates is quoted as saying
The children now love luxury. They have bad manners, contempt for authority; they show disrespect for elders and love chatter in place of exercise.
This is just another example of how much has not changed of the human condition. Whatever our surroundings or belongings, all we really own between birth and death is the body given us. For some unfortunate few even that is denied.
When I was in my teens and twenties there was a pervasive youth culture that decried the government for the Vietnam war, fought against sexual mores as being old fashioned and low skirt hemlines because we liked to see girl’s thighs. Counter culture was to the left, with everything from marches to criminal acts (e.g. the SDS or weather underground).
Today youth still bend left (mostly, there’s a sizable group that bends right), and are now joined by their professors in college who help push to the left because they are the children of the sixties and took part in those marches and causes.
Youth views the world through a filter of right and wrong. Philosophies are reduced to soundbites now that modern technology has so many distractions for them. Their cause celebre is indeed their cause today. Tomorrow’s cause may well be different.
Yet like youth of any era there’s the deep knowledge that their parents are old and stupid, and they are elites; the keepers of the true light of knowledge, being put down by “the man”.
Their attitude is well portrayed by Mark Twain:
When I was a boy of 14, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be 21, I was astonished at how much the old man had learned in seven years.
If I were in a position to influence youth I have a short list of what might be said. Like every parent I wished I could help my child avoid the mistakes of my youth and youth in general, but each passing generation has to repeat the lesson time and again.
I would council the young to be tolerant and listen to those they think are wrong. It can be mind stretching to understand why seemingly wrong or evil positions are held. Learning to listen silently and ask questions is the only way to approximate understanding another person. If we’re too busy talking we drown them out, but to our detriment.
I would encourage them to challenge not just what they see as institutional dogma, but the believe system their actions are based on. How many evils in this world have been based on falsehoods?
I would hope to convince some that most religions have, at their core, the sustenance of community and that community is hard or impossible to overvalue.’
Last, I would hope to convince them to make really good use of those few years of youth we are given.