Young people make me smile, give me hope. They are doing incredible things that we don’t often hear about. Instead we are fed a constant diet of bad news about kids who are shooters, youngsters who do drugs, kids who have problems with laziness and a lack of concern about anything. The fact is that those stories are the exception rather than the rule. Today’s youngsters are as amazing as they ever were, maybe even more so.
I recently had a fabulous conversation with a boy who is still in middle school. He is writing a book and he keeps his story is a little writing desk that he carries around in case he has a burst of inspiration. He’s ready to pull out a sheet of paper and a pen at a moment’s notice. He’s also learning French and gets a kick out of responding to me with the lovely kind of phrases and pronunciations that make that language so beautiful to hear. Recently he revealed that he is already an entrepreneur and has been since about the age of six.
He started by saving money from gifts, little jobs and so forth so that he might purchase a used vending machine from one of his relatives. He cleaned and refurbished the used machine with his parents and got permission to place it in a children’s gym. He spoke of the process of filling it each week with candies that he purchases from a local grocery store. He told me rather happily that he was so successful in that initial venture that he was able to purchase an additional machine and find a home for it in a dance studio. He’s close to having enough profit to get another one as well, and he hopes to one day have a fleet of machines, but explained that keeping them filled and in working order takes time and focus. He’s quite earnest when he speaks of his business and his future plans.
We talked about the importance of mathematics in keeping his machines profitable. He has to figure the unit costs of the items that he purchases and price his candy so that he continues to accrue both customers and profits. One of his most successful ventures has been placing boxes of pencils inside a school office that he sells for fifty cents each. Not only do the students now have a source of writing instruments, but he also does exceedingly well in terms of making money with very little effort. Still he must keep records and a careful accounting of each transaction. As we spoke of each aspect of being an entrepreneur I found myself conversing with him as an equal rather than someone who is still quite young. He is already learning about the responsibilities that come with being an adult.
Children never cease to inspire me. Most of them are truly working as hard as anyone with a job. They rise from sleep early and often stay busy with studies and other activities until late at night. Even their weekends are rarely their own. One of my grandsons told me about an English project that he completed on a Saturday that took him over six hours. The need to work so long did not arise from procrastinating for the assignment was given only the day before and was due the very next Monday morning. Of course he had homework in all of his other classes as well, so on a typical weekend he will spend twelve hour days engaged in school related assignments and activities. During the academic year it is rare for him to have anything even remotely resembling a holiday. The same is true of most of the young folk that I know. They are constantly blowing and going and preparing for the future.
Another young man with whom I am acquainted has designed a treehouse that he hopes to one day build in his yard. He does odd jobs for people so that he to fund the cost of all of the materials that he will need. He’s only in the sixth grade, but his blueprint is thought out very well, and he has loads of ideas as to how to earn the cash that he will need in order to make his dream come true. He has partnered with a friend in the hopes of speeding the process through a joint effort.
One of the cardinal sins of our society today is to generalize the flaws of a few to the many. We have groups ranting about privileged white men as though every male with pale skin is a horrid creature. We all too often hear the word “immigrant” being voiced to impugn anyone from a foreign country. There is a currently bad habit of implying that all democrats or republicans are of a certain disposition. So too do some seem to believe that anyone under the age of forty is probably highly sensitive, lacking in knowledge or common sense, inclined toward laziness. My experience has taught me that none of these caricatures is universally true, and to proclaim them as though they are settled science is absurd.
Sadly there are even persons who should know better who have fallen for stereotyping various groups. Sometimes those people are even teachers who complain to their students about laziness even though they well know that most of their pupils are genuinely working quite hard. There is nothing more deflating that being accused or ridiculed or lectured about some perceived sin that is not true.
I’m sure that every adult has at one time or another been submitted to a generalized complaint that had no basis in reality. It is frustrating and maddening to have to endure such treatment, and mostly it is unfair. I recall numerous times as a student when I sat in a group and received a generic tongue lashing about something of which I had absolutely no guilt. The teacher found it easier to fuss at everyone rather than taking the time to quietly address the actual perpetrators of the crimes. Their ridiculous treatment literally backfired as I found ways to tune them out, and since I was one of the good ones I can only imagine what the kids who had caused the problems were actually thinking.
We would do well as a society to spend more time recognizing the majority of young people who are striving to be their very best. They need to hear our praise for their efforts. Continual negativity that assumes that they are all alike just because they belong to a particular group is destructive to all of us. It’s time that we insist that anyone who does such things be challenged to change. It’s a tactic that neither inspires nor fixes problems. Celebrating our uniqueness and our positive efforts, on the other hand, has been proven time and again to enrich our world.