Be Nice to the Kids, No Matter how Feckless

by Willem Lange

EAST MONTPELIER – [Young people] are high-minded because they have not yet been humbled by life, nor have they experienced the force of circumstances . . . They think they know everything, and are always quite sure about it . . . because they have not been humbled by life or learned its necessary limitations – Aristotle’s Rhetoric, ca. 400 B.C.

Obviously, the younger generations in societies have from time immemorial been taking it in the shorts. A full 250 years before Aristotle, the Greek poet Hesiod, who I suspect was weaned on the ancient Greek equivalent of a pickle, trashes the kids with this noxious refrain: “. . . frivolous youth of today . . . are reckless beyond words . . . When I was young, we were taught to be discreet and respectful of elders.”

Not a day goes by but the internet features similar calumnies about the young – their indolence and lack of ambition; their disrespect for authority; their addiction to their cell phones; and their disinclination to become involved in organized religion. Almost invariably I leap to their defense, reminding the accusers that it might not be a bad idea to be nice to the kids, no matter how feckless we think them. They will, almost before we know it, be running our country when we’re over the hill and gone, and shortly after, wheeling us down to physical therapy and changing our diapers.

Those cautionary words always seem to fall on deaf ears, for the sniping never lets up. Just yesterday somebody posted a meme with the question, “What do today’s young people need?” Predictably, the answers were demeaning – everything from taking away “their screens,” to having more respect for their elders, to getting off their duffs and doing honest work for a change, to asking Jesus to come into their lives.

All very depressing, and utterly clueless. Their disrespected elders spend at least as much time on their phones as do the kids, and I’ve had the impression that almost always the person handing me my Quarter-Pounder through the window is a kid. As for religion, how’d you feel, going door to door on Halloween evening, coming across this on a screen door: “Attention Satanic Socialists!!! This is the home of a PATRIOTIC CHRISTIAN Family!” It goes on at length and ends, “If you want candy GET A JOB!! And FIND JESUS!!!!” Can you imagine the lives of the kids, if there are any, behind that screen door? And if you were a kid, would you want to join them?

I thought a bit about what “today’s young people need,” and it seemed to me that the most precious thing we could give them was something we oldsters are running out of – a future. And not just a future, but the confidence that there’ll be one for them to grow into. So, I opined that perhaps the thing they need most is a government that will provide that confidence.

Consider what these still-impressionable young people are absorbing every day from the wraparound news cycles. On their one hand, irresponsible media are urging them never to trust their government; on the other, daily reports from Congress (where the presumed adults are hard at work) reinforce the notion that nothing is, or will be, getting done that will benefit anyone but the Congresspersons themselves or – the image of a NASCAR race car comes to mind – their sponsors.

We’ve been in legislative gridlock before – the still largely unresolved Civil War, for example – and pundits from Mark Twain to H.L. Mencken to Will Rogers have taken their best shots at Congress. But the blather goes on. Does anyone really believe that all the tough talk of enforcing subpoenas and “getting to the truth” about the riot in January is anything but talk? Is it possible not to grow cynical when obvious cures for our ills, ones that other nations enacted decades ago, elude us because of lobbying by interests that essentially are puppets of their shareholders?

The late Barbara Bush, surveying the field of Democratic candidates for the 2000 Presidential nomination, pronounced them “a pretty sorry lot.” She may be gone, but they’re still here. The only hope I see now is in citizen movements. Government gas mileage standards are constantly thwarted by lobbyists but will become irrelevant as we leave them behind ourselves. Hundreds of thousands of people, almost as if they were a single organism, are newly aware of wage erosion and saying, no more! Unions are stirring. Change is in the wind, even a revolution. If our representatives can’t or won’t lead, we’re going to need the energy of those much-maligned kids to help us get there.