Friday, April 30, 2010

Passing the Torch: A Challenge to Every Generation

Ed. note.

I originally wrote this on the Feministing Community page, but thought it was worth sharing with a greater audience.


I myself have certainly been frustrated at the institutional resistance towards incorporating young adults into established organizations. On my own blog and on many sites I have voiced no small amount of frustration, citing the same arguments that the consistently disenfranchised always do. In my own activist work, both within my faith group and in political causes, I have found others who cite their same disgust at this problem. However, a recent discussion with someone granted me a new perspective. I hope I carry the insight she gave me throughout the course of my life and never forget it.

The woman I reference is a well-established lawyer who is herself one of those dreaded baby boomers. When I mentioned once again how disgusted I was with older adults who were covetous of their own power, she called me out for something I had said in our conversation, taking my exact words to make her own very pertinent point.

What I had said earlier was this. If you're pushing thirty like me, there's a bit of a temptation to see those in their early twenties and beyond as complete babies. And when you perceive of them in such a fashion, you question their maturity and their intellectual capability, simultaneously seeing yours as superior. This doesn't mean one is right or justified in doing so, but it is an instantaneous judgment call. The part of Washington, DC, where I live is home to lots of college students, and as a result I'm constantly aware that I am no longer in the frame of mind now that I was then. It is easy to be smugly condescending or to make blanket statement that lump all of them in together. These sorts of thoughts aren't especially fair, but they arrive so easily, and it takes a kind of willful diligence to not fall into these sorts of patterns.

My lawyer friend mentioned that this sort of generational conflict is true for everyone and every generation. It may be a supremely narcissistic exercise to think this way, but it underscores the fault lines and conflicted logic our society holds about youth. Youth is to be craved and held onto with a death grip, but possessing an immature kind of naiveté and underdeveloped sense of wisdom and perspective is strongly looked down upon. We also have a tendency to romanticize our youth in certain ways, and to deplore it in others.

Here's another means by which our conceptions of youth versus age manifest themselves in a slightly different fashion. When it came time to select a therapist, I chose a woman who was highly qualified, but I wasn't aware until our first meeting that she was my age. I have to admit that instantly I thought that someone my age couldn't possibly have the life experience necessary to help me in the way I needed, but that is yet another snap judgment of mine that has been proven completely false. I am pleased and humbled to report that she has proven to be the most helpful therapist I could have possibly chosen and this is in large part due to the fact that she and I share a basic frame of reference that someone older simply wouldn't have.

While it certainly isn't fair that institutions and organizations push young adults aside, placate us, or fail to take what we have to say seriously, I think part of the solution is to understand how easy it could be for us to be the very same way in a few decades or so. If we vow to always see the future not as threatening, nor challenging, nor somehow beneath us, then we won't repeat the past. The future isn't always best, but neither is the past. Seeking a balance between our experience and the newest tools designed to advance our causes and the issues we hold dear might be the precise combination of old and new that takes our cause to greater and greater heights.

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