As revolutionary events unfold in the MIddle East and Northern Africa, driven in many instances by the irrepressible voices of the young and their stunning commitment to a freedom they have never known, I find myself wondering what our younger generations are thinking, what their “take” is on world events, war, politics, the economy, the environment, privacy, and even on how personal relationships “work” via the technological note-passing that is Twitter or Facebook and (According to David Brook’s new book The Social Animal, The Hidden Sources of Love, Character, and Achievement) when a girl can have 3 or more different (sexual) hookups a year without being considered “skanky” by her peers. (And we’re not told how many is OK for the men and boys. Alas, some things never change.)
Theirs is not the world we grew up in. And, in most cases, even given our over-zealous parenting, they do not seem to be responding to it the same way we might have.
Why don’t I know what they’re thinking? I can ask. And when I ask my own adult progeny, from time to time, I find them very thoughtful. In fact, their thinking has made my thinking more progressive, and I admire their different ways of making their way in the world, eschewing what they call “working for the man,” and pursuing their passions, even as the Mom in me worries about things like their financial security and the Dad in my husband can’t keep the words “career path” from entering into these conversations (and shutting them down).
Their voices are missing, though, in the public forum. And it’s probably our fault. Look at the editorial and op-ed pages of your newspaper. (I’m assuming you still read newspapers which, apparently, the young do not -- which is not to say they are not well-informed; they simply get their news from different platforms.) Very, very few -- if any -- young people and their opinions are represented, i.e. published. In conventional journalism, a column is the reward for paying one’s dues, for being deemed to have something erudite to say on a regular basis, to have a really good reporter’s credibility and, generally, a distinctive point of view. These folks know how to put a story together and then, moving from the news pages to the opinion pages, are charged with saying what they think that story means. I loved having a column, or an editorial to write when I worked for community newspapers and when I edited a parenting magazine. Apparently so do the people writing their columns today, and they seem disinclined to relinquish their space, though two have, to their credit, recently stepped aside. Frank Rich says it’s time to do something else and Anna Quindlen, to her credit, told readers more than a year ago that younger voices needed to be heard.
The age ghetto is even more pronounced on network TV. Having entered the TV journalism market when one news director informed me a female reporter was “an unnecessary frill,” I can’t help but cheer for the penultimate success of a Katie Couric and a Diane Sawyer. But -- as good as they look and as comfortable as we may be with them delivering the news -- it’s clear that the networks have taken gravitas too far and are willing to stick with any formula that “works,” no matter that we’ve seen the same old faces on, say, 60 Minutes for what seems like 60 years!
Where are the young voices? What are they saying? And if we could hear them, would we listen?
Perhaps it is incumbent upon us to invest more time and energy in the social media, to move past the omg’s and lol’s to follow their message(s). We should, probably, work even harder to decipher the messages, to tap into the yearnings of our young people, to grasp their hope, to truly understand them. What if we could have more fruitful conversations in the public forum between and among generations, such that our lives would be enriched by newly articulated relationships with younger people and so that we could work together on some of this country’s larger problems?
I don’t really fear the kind of revolution here that has shaken dictators and despots in other parts of the world. But I do fear a kind of generational warfare (Should public funds support education and children’s health to a greater extent than they support the disproportionate expense of medical care at the end of one’s life? Who gets what jobs -- those who could (but now think they can’t) retire or those fresh out of school?). I fear being isolated and out of touch myself with the younger generations and who they are and what they need. But most of all, I fear losing all they have to offer -- bright, fresh ideas, relentless energy, collaborative thinking, passion -- if they have no outlet, if they think we can’t hear them, or worse, that we are so intent on holding on to what is “ours,” including our unique view of the world, that we aren’t listening.comments powered by Disqus