UMass students calling for social justice (masslive.com)
Blogging from A to Z
Theme: Bringing Me Joy
I remember having a passionate argument at age 16 with Richard, a philosopher-friend of my parents, who was middle-aged to me then, but in fact was only in his early thirties at the time. In what seemed to be impossibly patronizing tones, he assured me that I should just wait until I was a little older, and I would no longer feel so strongly about the state of the world. This only infuriated me all the more, and I screamed back that I would, I would; I would always feel passionately about it.
Now that I am older, almost twice as old as he was then, I think that Richard was both wrong and right. I still feel strongly about the state of the world, and, if anything, he feels more strongly about it than he did then. But the quality of that feeling is different, since I am battle-scarred, world-weary, and just plain tired. Young people throw their whole selves into a cause with all the idealism and energy of youth, invincible, unheeding of their own human frailty. I remember, as a 20-something anti-nuclear activist, preparing to occupy the construction site of the Seabrook nuclear facility, and declaring that we would set up camp there indefinitely, establishing a model alternative community. I must have believed this, although I can’t imagine how I could have imagined that the authorities would allow it for a moment; and they didn’t.
Students all over India in solidarity with students at JNU (Hindustan Times)
But I tell this story not to patronize my younger self. We accomplish impossible tasks when we believe that we can and act upon that belief, without hesitation or self-doubt. For a long time I was under the impression that “the younger generation” was selfish and self-involved. But in fact the current generation of people in their teens and twenties are more socially aware and politically active than any generation since the Sixties. Young people are on the move the world over, intensely concerned about the state of the planet, putting their bodies on the line for social and environmental justice. If at times I express irritation with them, it is really because I see in them my younger self, and hope against hope that they do not fall prey to the same mistakes that I—that we all—made at their age.
As we grow older and face our own mortality, we look to the younger generation as the hope for the continuation of the efforts we will not live to see completed. Their energy energizes us, their idealism inspires us, and their naïveté fills us with a protective tenderness. We need them; they are our future.
Model for multi–generational living in Germany © picture-alliance/dpa
The saddest thing to me is the way the elderly in many societies today are segregated with other old people, rather than living in multigenerational communities. I watched a documentary once about a community in Southeast Asia whose old people who were the happiest of any other group of elders on earth. Why? Because they had a useful social function, meeting the children from the school buses and looking after them until their parents came home from work. It was a win-win-win situation for everyone: them, the children, and the parents. I hope that we can work to create more and more such communities for ourselves and our age group.
When my son was in his twenties I used to look forward to the youthful energy in the house when he came home at holiday times. With the instantaneous communication of social media, he had hardly been home for a minute when his friends would start calling, dropping by, and sleeping over, with me fussing over them, serving snacks, and pulling out sleeping bags, as I used to when they were schoolchildren. iPhone were hooked up to the speaker system, and their music filled the house again, while the joyful noise of their boisterous play was music to my ears. Now they are setting up homes of their own and the house is quiet most of the time, the occasional visitors chatting sedately over tea with the subdued energy of my generation.
Let me make a couple of things clear: this is not a nostalgia piece, neither do I crave the presence of the young merely to vicariously recover my own lost youth. Furthermore, we oldsters still have plenty of fight left in us, and I would not want to give the impression that we simply want to let go of our responsibilities and pass the world’s problems on to the next generation; no, we will work for positive change as long we have breath in our bodies. But we mortals crave continuity, and the creativity and commitment of the young gives me hope for the future. And joy. Young people fill me with joy.
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