Every single time that I hear some older person calling young people “snowflakes” I go into a slow burning rage inside my head. It is an epithet invented to cast aspersions on the thinking of teens and twenty somethings who hold progressive points of view. The idea is that the youngsters are so fragile that they simply can’t bear critiques or differing ideologies. The insinuation is that they are silly, close minded and of little substance.
While there may very well be some young folk who are a bit spoiled and unwilling or unable to accept philosophies that run counter to theirs, the truth is that there are also middle aged individuals of more conservative bent who have the same trouble. Some of them are actually in high political positions and they often tweet their discontent. For the most part, however, I find the current crop of young men and women to be exceedingly hard working, earnest and determined to make a very positive difference in the world. The fact that they are a bit more liberal than their more aged counterparts has little to do with their level of courage or good intent.
It has long been a trend for young adults to be on a kind of search for truth and meaning in their world. It is in their natures to question the status quo and seek changes that they deem to be fair and more just.
Socrates once said, “The children now love luxury. They have bad manners, contempt for authority: they show disrespect for elders and love chatter in places of exercise.” This of course was noted about four hundred years before Christ walked on the earth, and I find it remarkable how it might have been said last week by some pundit making observations about today’s kids. In fact there are many such quotes that are part of our discussions of the young versus the old in political matters. We’ve all heard the quote, “If you are not a liberal at twenty five, you have no heart. If you are not a conservative at thirty five you have no brain.” It is a bit audacious in its sweeping assumptions, but we laugh at it because it bears a grain of truth. Indeed we often become more cautious as we grow older, but that does not make us wiser or more righteous. Thus, I find it beneficial to show more respect to the thinking of our younger generation than we generally do.
In 1776, when our Founding Fathers signed the Declaration of Independence their average age was forty four. That being said more than a dozen of them were younger than thirty five and among those some were still teenagers. In fact, the American Revolution as with all such sweeping changes was much more of a young man’s cause than that of older men. James Madison was only twenty five when he penned his name on the Declaration of Independence and the current hero on Broadway, Alexander Hamilton, was a mere twenty one. Young adults are more often than not as passionately concerned about the world as those thought to be more mature.
I enjoy the conversations that I have with my former students and my grandchildren regarding the political conditions of the world today. I prefer listening to them and asking them questions rather than challenging their ideas. I find it enlightening and quite hopeful to hear just how much they have considered the various issues with which we continually grapple. They are far less likely to simply accept a particular way of thinking without considering many different possibilities. Their beliefs are mostly based on a great deal of thought and research. They are involved in internal debates as they search for the best ways of doing things. They have the audacity to think outside of the box and come up with ideas as radical as revolting against the most powerful government in the world to create a new nation conceived in liberty.
I find myself spending hours listening to young men and women who are more than ready to do their share of the heavy lifting in the world. Of course they differ somewhat from me because many of their experiences have been different from mine, but they are not unpatriotic or inconsiderate or lazy or spoiled. They simply look at the challenges that we all face from the vantage point of having an entire lifetime ahead of them rather than having walked through a lifetime. Their youthfulness does not make their thoughts any less valid than mine or any other older adults, but it does tend to make them more inclined to envision new and exciting possibilities. I find that when I listen respectfully the favor is returned when I speak. A rational and fruitful discussion ensues. It is when we disregard the fervor of a young person’s enthusiasm that we create an emotional impasse.
Each of us longs to be heard, to be understood. All we ask is that we be accorded an opportunity to speak our minds with impunity. All too often we create situations by dismissing certain forms of speech before they are even uttered, leaving us in a “them or us” kind of division. Hurling insults without thought only further inflames the situation.
During the height of the Vietnam war when so many of us were protesting what we believed to be a terrible mistake, far too many adults treated us as though we did not love our country. They did not seem to understand that it took great courage and much patriotism to speak out against what we saw as a wrong. There was a great divide that lead to unnecessary violence and clashes that might never have happened if only each group had been willing to sit quietly and consider each point of view. The frustrations came from all of the misunderstandings that came from assigning insulting labels to each cause, and pitting young people against their elders. Sadly we did not seem to learn from those mistakes.
The next time you find yourself wondering what a young person might possibly be thinking, instead of writing him/her off as a snowflake, try encouraging a true conversation with the intent of learning rather than judging. I believe that you will find that we are all seeking most of the same things, we simply have different ideas about how to achieve them.
Honor our young. They will one day be taking the reigns of leadership and helping us in our final days. I for one feel comfortable that we will be in very good hands.