Stop Talking about “Young People”

Stop Talking about “Young People” July 16, 2015

Once upon a time, my adult children, still in the demographic often described as “young,” were complaining that they were invisible. None of them fit any descriptions used to fit young adults-the stereotypes or the boxes.

Are they conservative? Sort of, but in different ways. Are they liberal? Sort of, but in different ways. In fact, other than being our children they are not a class that agrees on too many things amongst themselves. I enjoyed hearing two of them arguing over the treatment of First Peoples and cultural appropriation. Who was right? Who knows? I am not sure they have worked out an opinion yet.

This hesitation is important: who knew what they would believe at eighteen or twenty-five? At eighteen, I was confused. At fifty-two, I am still in process, but at least my beliefs have a stronger connection to reality.

Young people love this! (At least in 1925, in Russia, for a while.)
Young people love this! (At least in 1925, in Russia, for a while.)

So it is with irritation that I read continuously how the church should change, the nation should change, morality should change, because of the young people. What young people? Where?

When I am told the young people support changes in morality, I wonder if we are talking about some of my kids, all my kids, any of my kids, or if like my own adult children, their peers in places like India and Nigeria simply do not count. Are the only young people that will shape the future found in Northern California? Even limited to NorCal, do any young people (how I loath the term) fit the stereotypes perfectly?

Individualism, I am told, is important to Americans, and I see much talk of it. Certainly personal peace and affluence is valued, but I do not see much individuality. All well fed cosseted swine look alike, it is the wild boar that is an individual and nobody generalizes about a free creature. There is no liberty, at least historically, without shaking up our peaceful lives and suffering some form of poverty. We must suffer to grow and all suffering (that is not gratuitous but educational) must be individualized.

Somethings hard for me are easy for other people: each of us will face our own test on our way to becoming fully ourselves.

Because we must think about groups and classes of people (if only because bigots have done so), we must talk about “young people.” All I ask is that we remember that this group is made up of individuals and these individuals need to be free to become selves. Selves will seldom fit neat categories and will always do unexpected things.

The delight of being a parent is that you just do not know where your kids are going. They are (as one reminded me) gloriously themselves and who would want it to be different than that?

As a teacher, I have never found it useful to think of “students” as if they were all the same. Individuals surprise me and teach me. “Students” are numbers on charts.

What’s up with the young people? I do not know. What is up with my adult children? I am learning.

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