Learn Lenience We were all young once.

Learn Lenience We were all young once.

Issue 39

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Arts & Culture

  • Words Harry Harris
  • Artwork Katrien De Blauwer

It is hard to overestimate the impact of the car on American life at the beginning of the 20th century. John Steinbeck once wrote, perhaps hyperbolically, that “Most of the babies of the period were conceived in Model T Fords and not a few were born in them.” 

There is always something that is credited with marking a shifting point from one generation to the next. Vehicles. Music. Technology. And generally speaking, whatever it is tends to rankle the generation that came before. Boomers thought Gen Xers were lazy and cynical. Gen Xers thought millennials were entitled brats. Millennials think Gen Zers are TikTok slacktivists. Gen Z will surely find something to complain about in 20 years’ time. 

And this is not a trend specific to the modern era. In around 470 B.C., Socrates wrote: “The children now love luxury; they have bad manners, contempt for authority; they show disrespect for elders and love chatter in place of exercise.” Four hundred years later, Aristotle wrote of young people that “they think they know everything, and are quite sure about it.” In 1771, a letter in Town and Country Magazine complained that “a race of effeminate, self-admiring, emaciated fribbles can never have descended in a direct line from the heroes of Poitiers and Agincourt.”

So it seems that once they’ve moved past the first blush of youth, people are doomed to experience a collective amnesia that erases the fact that being young is difficult. You’re figuring out how to play the hand you’ve been dealt, moving into a world that doesn’t take you seriously—that thinks you’re self-absorbed, entitled, soft-bellied. If every generation levying the same criticisms against the young for 2,000 years tells us anything, it’s that each generation isn’t really so different from the last. 

Maybe then, it’s time to break the habit. Instead of putting up walls between generations, we can model something more like a peaceful transition of power which recognizes the things that make us similar. Young people may be listening to different music than we did, but they still gravitate toward music that’s transgressive, and defies the norm. They may be using technology that baffles at first, but they’re using it to find their voice and to speak their minds in exactly the same way we used to. The causes they fight for might be different than ones we fought for, but they’re still fighting. And one day, they’ll be middle-aged and cranky, too.

You are reading a complimentary story from Issue 39

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