The Audacity of Youth

    When I was younger I wished that I had been born sooner. But not for the reasons you might think. In my idealistic version of the alternate person I could have become, I envisioned the possibility of someone who would have been caught up in that tidal wave of young people who questioned generations of acquiescence to authority and stopped a war.


    I don’t really know on which side of life’s tightrope my parallel self would have landed. Anti-war activist? Free love advocate? Or someone merely led astray by the too many choices of too many altering activities? Likely, I might have merely given in to the gravity pull of a strongly-centered family and remained grounded, well below the circus fray of that raucous political era.


    I want to think not. I want to think that the cocktail mix of passions and youth and times that were ‘a changin would have had some effect on me. And that I might have been one to make a difference. In some way.


    I know that I would have believed it possible.


    That is the audacity of youth.


    And its contradiction.


    Question everything, believe nothing.


    But believe everything.


    In the blink of youth, the possibilities are limitless; potential, endless.


    In terms of the age of its citizens, Egypt is one of the youngest countries on the planet. With a median age of only 24, more than two-thirds of its population is under the age of 30. By contrast, the median age in the U.S. is 37.  Too young to parent those Egyptian youngsters, we old Americans are nonetheless in a very different place. They’re in their 20s; we’re pushing 40.


    And it is exactly because of where they stand on the timeline of their own lives that Egyptians were able to stand tall, speak up, and change the world. Rarely do the contradictions of youth align strategically enough to yield such astounding events. But they did, and as President Obama rightly opined, Egypt will never be the same. The world will never be the same.


    I wonder if there is any cause which could so inspire the youth of our own country. What might impassion them to action? In my cynic’s brain, I think –not much.


    But I don’t lay the blame solely on their apathetic shoulders. Instead, I think to their age –and ours. Not only do we parents hold a stronger demographic foothold; we strongly hold onto our children. Too strongly, one might suggest. Whether you refer to it as helicopter parenting, or simply over parenting, there is a unanimity in agreement that most of us have gone over the top with regard to our presence in our children’s lives. We more than observe and advise; we manipulate and control. And the stranglehold of power we have may be doing an irreparable disservice to our kids.


    In lessons of old, communist and dictatorship regimes often began their stint in power with a comparative analogy to a benign parent figure which knew what was best for its simple citizenship. But time and evolution and unsatisfying conditions of life eventually saw many of those countrymen throwing off the shackles of their leaders, like adolescents pulling away from parents. With good reason, they sought –and got- the change they wanted. Independence. Autonomy.The right to make their own rules. And their own mistakes.


    We need to grant to our children those same rights, but also, they need to want them. Unfortunately for all of us, we’ve blessed our children with some pretty comfortable circumstances. Maybe, too comfortable. From what do they have to rebel? Even those angry and angst laden adolescents seem to come to terms with our offerings by the time they’re leaving college. Instead of making their way out into the world, many of them seek a return to the motherland in the guise of all the right reasons. Better timing, a better job, a bit more education. And too many of us dictatorships-in-training acquiesce to their non-transition.


    It took three decades for the forces of change to rise against Mubarak’s autocratic control of Egypt. In his oft-maligned tenure, he survived six assassination attempts.


    I hope that after 30 years, the citizens of my own household will be well on their way. And rather than plotting their strategies for takeover or assassination from within the palace walls, I’d like to believe that they’ll be off building their own country, with its own set of dictatorial rules.


    My mom always said she wished upon her three children, children who were like them.


    Ditto.


    And when my future grandchildren are ready to overthrow their own kingdoms, I’ll hope for the sake of my kids that it will be from foreign soil.


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Cancel My Vote

    We don’t vote. At least, not enough.

    In the highest recorded voter turnout since 1960, less than 62% of us made it to the polls in 2008. And that was a major, presidential election which broke ground on many levels. Mid-term elections typically fare much worse; less than half of us bother to send an opinion.

    voteWhat’s of even more concern, however, is that our kids don’t vote.

    While countries across the world send huge numbers of citizens to their polls, the youth of America stays home. In Afghanistan, citizens traveled miles and literally risked their lives (14 people were killed) for the opportunity to vote in their recent elections. Our kids are unlikely to travel to the conveniently located polling sites in their towns for Tuesday’s election.

    I avoid what I consider the obvious minefield topics with my students: religion, politics. It isn’t that I don’t have an opinion or that I don’t want to hear theirs; I do. However, because I work so closely with them –one-on-one- I acknowledge that my influence upon their decisions may be prejudicially weighted -and feel that testing that assumption would be unfair.

    Case in point. The other day, I was working with a student who had to stake a debate position. She chose her side and I offered to play devil’s advocate. Upon hearing my case, she switched sides. I switched my position again; she switched back. She wasn’t trying to be funny, or so fully indecisive.

    Part of her quick abandonment of her stated principles was that at the root of the debate, she really didn’t care much one way or the other. However, when I pressed her, she offered an even more candid reasoning.

    “Which side will have more research material available?” she asked.

    I answered her honestly. She chose what she considered the “easier” route.

    While most of my students might not be so quickly swayed by some of my well-constructed arguments, I’ve edged to their principles often enough to understand how easily I could bring them to another viewpoint. That’s why I leave most of my opinions to myself.

    And apparently, it’s worked.

    For some reason (perhaps it’s the political season) two students with whom I’ve never discussed my beliefs recently asked me where I stood. When I declined an outright admission, they each decided they knew the answer. One said I was most definitely a liberal; the other assumed me a staunch Republican.

    Hmm.

    Good.  I guess.

    I’m not so sure I like the idea that they were both completely convinced that they know me so well and that clearly they do not. Or at least, one of them doesn’t.

    But what I also don’t like is my own dawning comprehension that in all my non-contribution to political discourse with them, I’ve left them to their own devices. To a great extent, I’ve done this with my own children, as well, urging them to make their own choices and come to their own conclusions. Good theory.

    And leaving the lot of them to their own opinions wouldn’t be a bad thing –if they had any.

    I’m not kidding.

    When I try to get any of them fired up on most any topic, I generally fall short. There’s just not a whole lot about which they care passionately. And that worries me way more than whether or not the ballot they cast will support my candidate or positions. Sure, it would nice if they followed lockstep with my beliefs so I was assured my version of “right” decisions being upheld into the political future. But given a choice of a wrong answer or none at all, I think I’d allow them their own mistakes. After all, those who have come before them have made plenty.

    So this week when I make one final effort to implore my kids and my students to vote, included in my reasons will be their constitutionally protected right to disagree with the adults in their lives in a format that gives them equal clout. I’ll urge them to vote with me, even if their vote may effectively cancel my own.

    Yet even as they offer me their earnest assurances that they’ll find a way to make it to the polls or send in those absentee ballots their parents have forwarded along, my cynical self will imagine them hearing my voice as the wah, wah, wah, of a Charlie Brown fashioned cartoon. And rather than cast that ballot and cancel my vote, they’ll allow me and my kind to still lead their future, passing on yet another opportunity to stake a claim on the world which will very soon be theirs.