Each generation imagines itself to be more intelligent than the one that went before it, and wiser than the one that comes after it.
Recently, I had the great good fortune to spend time with a friend, his wife, and their two daughters – ages 13 and 10. Both children are wonderful, mirroring their parents in creativity, intelligence, independence and charm. They are precocious without conceit, witty and warm, polite and proactive, and full of good questions – the kind that make you stop and think before you answer, and stop and think after your answer about your answer.
For example, one day the 13-year-old asked me if I was worried about how young people would do in the future? After some back and forth, I interpreted her question to mean if I thought her generation would screw things up (or make things worse) once they grew into adults and took over the reins of society. For someone like me, tickled by middle age hubris about my generation’s impact and capacities, (see the Orwell quote above), it was tempting to cast doubts on the efficacy of those that will come after.
But I gave myself a moment to ponder, and what I decided was that I wasn’t worried about young people’s abilities to keep the world rolling, so to speak, but I was worried about the world they would be rolling. And I’m not just speaking of climate change, as serious as that is, but also the speed of technological advance, and with it a greater reliance on something other than the human brain to think and act, create and experience and enjoy life. Also spreading fear in my mind about the future was the prospect of apocalyptic wars and escalating violence, energy shortages, water issues, and so on and so on. And based on all that I gave her my answer: I was not concerned about how young people will do in the future, I’m concerned about what they might not be able to do.
This piece, however, is meant to be optimistic. There’s enough of the opposite nowadays – a steady stream of what was wrong, what is wrong, and what will go wrong. And that’s not wrong. We need to be introspective about our lives, need to be vigilant about calling out injustices, need to push for change to ensure that our world is a place where people have the opportunity to enjoy peace, stability, happiness and prosperity. But we also need to recognize and give equal voice to what was right, what is right, and what will go right. We need to be able to look at a jar that is half-empty and also recognize that it is half-full. And we need to loosen the boundaries of our ideas and break down our walls so that we can help others and let others help us. As Thich Nhat Hanh said, “In true dialogue, both sides are willing to change.”
For me, however, after spending time with my friend’s family and his daughters, it was easy to feel positive, easy to see that young people will do just fine, and that they will take on challenges and win them with intelligence, resiliency and honesty. It’s just up to us to give them the chance.