To Be Young
What if we listened to the young people?
And for those of you who really want this to be a subjective “you’re-as-young-as-you-feel” question, it’s not. I’m specifically curious about hearing from you if you’re under the age of 18. Trust me, at 31, I would love to group myself in that category of feeling as spry as the days of my teens, but in reality, I don’t. Between my knees yelling at me for doing too much dancing at that one wedding reception and my kids yelling at me because they don’t want to take baths, I’m fully aware that I am not as young as I used to be.
But I remember it all like it was yesterday.
I remember the uncertainty. The confusion. The bright-eyed optimism that fought regularly with narcissistic pessimism. I remember thinking that anything was possible, but in the very next second, wondering what would compel anyone to listen to me.
Guys, I know. Not everyone has had that same experience. In fact, I’m given to believe that some of us were able to take that period of emotional ambiguity and channel it somewhere. Some of us used sports, whether due to natural ability or by social suggestion. Some of us relied on academics. The rest of us, however, well...we were daydreamers.
If I could locate my high school English teacher, I would find a way to hear her retell how many times she had to clap her hands/drop a book/generally threaten my grade because my staring out of the window during class-time or reading something completely unrelated to 10th Grade English.
I would also ask Young Nick about his ideas for some of the world’s problems. In 2002, they were many, and I guess in that fashion, some things never change. I had a lot of thoughts about race relations and identity, faith and spirituality, the judicial system, poverty…as well as opinions on the casting of Halle Berry as Storm in the X-Men movie. 16 years later, I don’t believe I’m much wiser than those days. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that I’ve grown jaded over time.
In these past weeks, I’ve watched friends and acquaintances recall horrific instances where they experienced sexual trauma, which were triggered by the United States Supreme Court’s vote to approve Judge Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination to serve.
No more than 15 minutes ago, I watched a video that said that if our food waste were a country, it would be the third biggest source of carbon pollution.
And there are many more instances of crisis after crisis that seems to demand something that I honestly don’t know how we, as a species, could solve. Once again, I’m jaded and overwhelmed.
So maybe we should be listening to young people.
The thing is, I don’t buy into the whole “young, wild and free” narrative. Sure, it makes for a great summertime, coming-of-age film, but I don’t think that really reflects the reality for a lot of our kids. Earlier this year, thousands of kids made their way to our nation’s capital to march against gun violence. Now, to my knowledge, marches are sort of a tradition for groups of people who have had enough any one of society’s ills. From varied civil rights to women’s rights to LGBTQ+ issues - peaceful dissent is not a new topic. This year, however, our country saw something to combat that old adage “youth is wasted on the young”.
During my junior year in high school, the Archdiocese of Newark elected to close my high school, due to poor enrollment. We marched from East Orange to Newark to protest the closing and seek an opportunity to raise the funds we needed. I remember that march, and feeling the tangible energy, like a blanket of motivation and sheer will. We believed we could make a difference. We knew that things would change, energized by the strength in our lungs.
Plus, we weren’t in school. Quite the bonus, amirite?
I would have loved to have the organizing opportunities that exist right now. These kids are using their time and working to invest them in issues they care about. They have technology and access to information that I could have only dreamed of. Maybe my high school would still be open. Who knows?
What I’m suggesting isn’t necessarily a national takeover by individuals who are still learning many things about themselves and the world around them. As entertaining as that may be, I am fully aware that we all have a hand to play in each other’s contribution to society. At the same time, I also have this nagging notion that we aren’t doing a lot of listening. As adults, for whatever reason, we focus so much on output. We tell our kids a lot of things. What to eat, what to wear, who to spend time with, how to study, how to speak - much of which is needed; how much time is spent actually listening to them?
Even from a creative standpoint, many of our favorite musicians and creatives found their breakthrough in their braveness while young. From Jimi Hendricks to Tupac Shakur to Jean-Michel Basquiat to Michael Jackson - somehow, they commanded a nation of millions with the power and the passion of their voices and gifts.
So again I ask - what if we listened to the young people?
And if you’re a young person, what would you do if the rest of us geezers were listening to you? Not just politely letting you talk until we formed our rebuttal - I’ll be honest, I’m guilty of doing this to many youth. But if we created a space to hear directly from you, without interruption or correction, what would you say? What are your ideas? How do things look from your perspective? What are you aching to say?