Kids these days

(“Peace and Justice Files” columnist Skip Mendler fled the U.S. on January 19, and is now working with a refugee assistance group near Belgrade, Serbia.)

How many times recently have you heard someone say, or seen a post on social media, something like this?

“The children now love luxury; they have bad manners, contempt for authority; they show disrespect for elders and love chatter in place of exercise. Children are now tyrants, not the servants of their households. They no longer rise when elders enter the room. They contradict their parents, chatter before company, gobble up dainties at the table, sit indecently and tyrannize their teachers.”

Sound familiar?

It should—it’s attributed to Socrates.

Seems that dissing the younger generation as being lazy good-for-nothings has been a hobby for grumpy old folks for a long, long time. “In my day... we respected our elders, we did what we were told....”

No, you didn’t.

You were just as much a mixture of delightful angel and pain-in-the-butt snot-nose as I or anyone else was. You’ve just forgotten.

And the world back then was not as trouble-free as you seem to remember it being. We were just ignorant.

In fact, let me suggest that the very first time you hear a phrase like “What is wrong with kids these days?” pass your lips, you should immediately make a note to have yourself checked for the onset of senile dementia. It’s a sure sign that your brain is starting to calcify.

For the last several months, it has been my privilege and pleasure to meet, hang out with, and get to know some truly phenomenal young people. They are knowledgeable about the world and connected to it in ways that are unimaginable to those of us who maybe perhaps had a foreign “pen pal“ or two or grew up watching the occasional travel documentary on PBS.

Emilia (not her real name) and her partner Helga (ditto) and I were talking recently here in Belgrade. I was interested in knowing where their activism and engagement had come from. Was it a product of education, of familial values, of religious belief, of watching the news? Emilia spoke instead of how travel had given her the opportunity to meet and interact with people from other countries. “After a while,” she said, in a phrase that struck me deeply, “every country has a face.” An earthquake in Peru, say, is no longer just some remote geological event; it happens 20 kilometers from the home of your friend Maria, whom you met on a hiking trip in Vermont, and with whom you stay in touch on Instagram.

Other volunteers here have told me similar stories. Sometimes they had the money, sometimes they worked for it, sometimes they found their way one step at a time, but the ability to personally witness other parts of the world, and see our fellow humans as just that—humans—has done something to their hearts and souls, something that I think needs to happen to as many people as possible.

So next time you see one of these newspaper opinion pieces about all the problems with Millennials, take it with a good-sized portion of salt—and if you are a Millennial, don’t let anyone else try to tell you who you really are.

 

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