(c) Doug Slagle, Minister to the Gathering at Northern Hills, All Rights Reserved
I imagine many of us heard this past week that a new baby boy was born to Prince Harry of England and his wife Meghan. What struck me was not this news, but both of their statements of joy and amazement.
Using words every parent can identify with, Harry said about the birth, “It’s been the most amazing experience I could ever possibly imagine… it was absolutely incredible…I’m so incredibly proud of my wife and as every father and parent would ever say, my baby is absolutely amazing…this little thing is absolutely to die for. I’m just over the moon.”
I remember feeling exactly the same when my girls were born. Witnessing the birth of any child is one of the most meaningful experiences a person can have. Being a dad is truly my greatest life achievement.
Those feelings of mine will never go away, but they’ve sometimes been tested. Waking up in the middle of the night to a crying baby, changing really gross diapers, enduring the terrible twos, feeling panicked when my girls were sick, worrying when I didn’t know where they were as teenagers, and surviving their teen drama queen attitudes are times when – just for a moment – I wondered if being a dad was worth it.
Most of those momentary misgivings came from how to relate to and understand my girls – who are half my age. I was not a crazy helicopter parent, at least I don’t think I was, but I monitored what my girls did more than my parents did me. I remember my mom would literally push me and my siblings out the door on weekend afternoons and tell us to go have fun – but not come back unless we’d broken both arms – or it was dark. I walked, or rode my bike, miles from my house all the time. And most of my friends did the same.
Today, from what I hear, some parents don’t let their children walk on the front sidewalk without closely watching them, or else stapling a GPS tracking device to their bodies. Some parents are so involved in their kids’ lives that the kids feel over scheduled and unable to just have fun – to creatively play, build tree houses, or romp through the woods.
One result is a young generation that perhaps more than previous generations feels the stress and anxiety that only adults felt in the past. Youth today not only are stressed about full schedules, but also about school shootings, terrorism, the future effects of climate change, and an economy that could make them the first generation in history NOT to be better off financially than their parents.
Experts say that young people today spend a lot of time by themselves…more than any generation in the past. As a result, many youth between the ages of 13 and 29 self report that depression, fear, and anxiety negatively affect them.
The younger generations are also, of course, masters of our digital technology era. The average six year old knows more about using and programming computers, smartphones and internet websites then does a fifty year old engineer. Many young people report they find connection and feel less stress when using social media and their smartphones. The devices are escapes for them from the stress and anxiety many feel. Computers and the internet have defined their lives since birth – and that’s not something they caused. Indeed, as one current social commentator put it, “Technology DEFINES today’s youth culture.”
Unfortunately, all of this causes many adults over forty to complain about young people. They’re lazy, narcissistic, addicted to their phones, selfish, and rude – some adults say. Youth are accused of taking far too long to grow up, marry, have kids, and pay their own way.
I relate to some of those feelings myself – even as I know I’m totally wrong. Like all past generations, I like to think that I had it far harder than current young people. I was married at 23, a dad at 24, and responsible for a mortgage at 26. My girls, on the other hand, did not get married until their late twenties and my oldest, who is approaching 35, has said she may not ever have children. That is of course her right to choose, but I’ve nevertheless wrongly dropped way too many hints that I’d love to be a grandfather while I’m still “young” enough to enjoy it.
Unitarian Universalists, as we know, are advocates for social justice. We empathize with the oppressed and marginalized. I’ve offered a few messages on ageism and how that too is a form of prejudice and implicit bias – but my perspective has always been on how ageism is directed at seniors.
In truth, ageism is discrimination based on ANY age – old or young. Applying that definition, I have been ageist toward teenagers and young adults – as have many others. My stereotypes of young people are wrong on many levels – the most important being that I should never stereotype anyone.
What is true about today’s young people is not only that they are idealistic – as youth of every generation are – but that most genuinely care about equality, diversity and social justice. A majority of them are rightly outraged that too many older people are prejudiced against people of color, or those with different sexualities. Most youth have experienced tremendous diversity, and they’ve therefore seen firsthand that people are all the same.
Young adults are not as driven to acquire large amounts of wealth or expensive cars and homes. They genuinely care about the environment. They rightly see technology as a force for good – something that can and will save lives and save the earth too. Electric self-driving cars, solar, wind and battery power, and artificial intelligence are all forms of technology that will fix many of the problems older generations created.
Significant to us as Unitarian Universalists is not only that we too can be ageist toward youth, but that as Progressives we overlook the fact that young people, their ideas, attitudes, and technology are exactly what our world needs. Youth are not just literally the future, they speak and think in new, innovative and, yes, different ways. In my opinion, that’s a very good and very needed thing!
Forgive me for being slightly political, but I don’t believe it’s Progressive to elect another older, white, straight man as President. And while its not for me to say, I hope my future successor here is not an old white man either. The world needs not just a diversity of people, but a diversity of perspectives too – ones from youth, people of color, women and LGBTQ persons.
And I apply that same standard to this congregation. Results from our recently completed congregation survey indicate that 62% of all respondents were older than 55. While having a majority of older people in a congregation is definitely NOT a bad thing, overall it’s not the best for any group’s long term future. Sadly, GNH’s demographics are the same for almost all churches and synagogues. In that regard, most of them, including GNH, need a wake up call to find ways to think young.
As Michael Tacy pointed out in one of his past messages, GNH will be stronger and live true to its Progressive ideals if it adopts more practices that young people enjoy. That includes adding youth oriented music, message topics, and services – like we are doing with these monthly Coffeehouse services. We should not eliminate traditional services and practices, but we must purposefully be willing to slowly but surely evolve.
For those of us who are older than 50, I believe when interacting with young people, we should:
- Listen more and lecture less.
- Accept more of what youth think.
- Stop judging and criticizing them.
- Use a lot more humor in our conversations with them.
- Allow youth to assume more management and leadership roles.
- Open our minds to new lifestyles, practices and technology.
- Be willing to sacrifice some of what we enjoy for what youth enjoy.
- Cut youth some slack – everyone was once inexperienced too.
- And most importantly, I believe older generations need to respect and empathize with the hopes, dreams and ideas of young people. Respect for the dignity of all persons is a two way street. It doesn’t run only in the direction of respect for people as old as me. And I, for one, thank goddess for that!
Peace and joy to each of you!!