The Influencers

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When I was younger many of my elders influenced my outlooks on life. My mother taught me the art of loving unconditionally. My father demonstrated the joy of constantly learning. My paternal grandfather helped me to hone my optimism. My paternal grandmother showed me that education does not only come in a classroom or a book. My maternal grandmother’s life helped me understand that sometimes risk taking and courage are found in ordinary ways. My mother-in-law introduced me to philosophies that had once been foreign to me. My first grade teacher inspired me to realize that teaching is about reaching both hearts and minds. My high school English teacher introduced me to the world. An aunt showed me what it truly means to be a woman. The principals for whom I worked guided me to mastery of the art of teachings. 

Now when people ask who influences me, I turn to the younger generation. My children, former students and grandchildren are helping me to see the world from a different perspective. I hear their earnest concerns for the future and I realize that they are attuned to the kind of progress that we must have if humanity is to survive the onslaughts that history and science tell us are bound to come. Unlike many people in my age group who are tired and just want to be left alone, they have many adventures ahead of them. They have hopes and dreams that have yet to unfold. Their visionary thinking and their energy inspire me just as the adults who guided me once did. 

They are not the self centered spoiled generation that some believe them to be. What I see are hard working, thinking people who love this country and our earth. They understand the many challenges that our world faces now and in the future and they have ideas for solutions that will benefit us all. Mostly I see a kindness in their thinking that is extended generously to people without judgement. They critique systems and situations not to cause trouble, but to prevent it in the future. They are more well versed in science and mathematics and history than I was at the same ages. They are willing to sacrifice whatever it takes to improve life not just for themselves or their families or our country, but for the world over. Listening to them relate their philosophies and ideas convinces me that the future may have some bumps, but ultimately it will be very bright. 

From the beginning of time the older folk have had a tendency to doubt the younger ones. Literature is replete with admonitions that society is failing because the next generation does not have what it takes to be contributing adults. I have found that premise to be generally false and I think that we would do well to hear and respect what our young people have to say. Sometimes they have a better conception of what we need to do as a society. As we age we often become complacent and long for the old days rather than meeting problems head on with innovative ideas. Save for Ben Franklin and George Washington, most of the founders of our nation were rather young. People like James Madison understood the pitfalls of the nation they had crafted and warned that there might be chinks in the plan. 

The youth of the world are like the boy who was willing to point out that the emperor parading down the street had no clothes. Instead of insulting teens and those younger than forty when they make suggestions that are almost as revolutionary as the ones that Jefferson and others enacted at our nation’s birth, we should take their thoughts into serious consideration. Sometimes they have seen the future better than we have. 

When my grandson outlines the problems and solutions associated with climate change I listen because predictions that he made eight years ago are coming to fruition as though he was a prophet. When my students tell me about gun violence that they have experienced and make suggestions about how to curb it, I am impressed with how well they have thought through their ideas. When my granddaughter outlines her dream to study the law and work to bring our fractured party system back to a willingness to work together, I believe that it is possible because I have seen her leadership abilities in action. 

I am greatly influenced by what I hear young people saying and by what I witness them doing. They are kinder and more inclusive than older generations. They have honest discussion with each other without showmanship or motive other than working through problems. They are unafraid of change and look to the future with optimism. It’s time we showed them more respect than we have of late. 

Many of the greatest achievements in history have come from very young people. There is no metric of age that should determine the worth of an individual’s ideas. We would all do well to begin conversations with those younger than we are without designing rebuttals even before they speak. They have open minds and we should as well. They are my new heroes. I learn something from them every single day and my admiration for them only rises as I realize how thoughtful and committed they are to making a better world. I rest easily at night knowing that even if we don’t allow them to take on positions of influence right now, one day they will be in charge.