Don’t Throw Out the Youth

We’re all standing on the deck together, looking out over a spectacular sunset. Straight ahead you can see that “big ball of orange sinking softly in the sea,” while behind us is a spectacular view of the mountains. Its a beautiful day, for sure.

Another wonderful view has passed before us, and is now getting cleared away. We just devoured a delicious meal, complete in every sense: organic food and exotic flavors combine for a marvelous burp. What could be better? As the dishes are taken out and the cups are replaced with mugs, someone wonders aloud, “Where are the kids?” and just like that my bliss begins to melt.

Somewhere along the way our society must have thrown out the youth. Its ironic, because we diligently reuse the paper bags the food came in, recycle the cans and bottles holding some of the spices and sauces, and reduce paper waste by using cloth napkins instead of paper ones. But in our haste to go about enjoying ourselves, somewhere along the way our society – led by adults, for adults – threw away the youth. Just tossed them out like the dish water or yesterday’s newspaper.

We suspect that they aren’t us, even though we don’t like to hear that line of thinking. In the backs of our minds we adults like to think of youth as separate and different. They are transient, borderless ingrates; we are concrete, founded, and powerful. They are wasted and wasteful; we are resourceful, conserving, and powerful. Ah yes, to say it in a word, we believe that youth are Disposable. Disposable youth. Their culture, their economy and their relationships are all made of dust and sand. That’s what we think.

Which is why we market so heavily to young people today. That’s why we market young people today. We have figured out how to manipulate society’s minds into believing that youth are hopeless. Society has largely abandoned youth, and that is why: hopelessness. This leaves the young people, the onetime “future,” out on a limb.

But look what they are doing now. It seems that in the void of adult responsibility young people are stepping up to the plate. In the absence of adult leadership young people are expanding their influence and advocating for a place at the table. Their intentions are not selfish, because they do not claim to represent solely their own. Instead they talk about their younger siblings and grandparents, their whole families, their neighborhoods, and their communities. The interests many young people are advocating for aren’t solely those that affect young people, because their are no interests that solely affect young people. The youth prisons affect adults, the curfew laws affect adults, education reform affects adults, busing, racism, cruising, criminalization, voting, gender identification, arts, sustainable agriculture, militarization, sexual orientation, hip hop, play, commercialism… These are not simply “youth problems” – they are community problems.

Yet we pretend these things don’t affect us. We are indifferent to the movements, intransigent in our own politics, and isolated by our own ignorance. “Oops, honey, I think we threw out the kids again.”

Let’s not let this keep happening. Don’t throw out the youth.

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