“You haven’t been around for long enough to see this all play out,” “I was alive for this, I didn’t have to learn about it in a classroom,” “My firsthand knowledge is more important than what you’ve discovered more recently.” Those are the most common ways that I witness adults patronize students and kids, and nothing makes me more upset than that.
Younger people are the most effective learners, given the vast majority of us are students. We know how to interpret what has happened, even despite not being alive to watch it all go down.
I think a lot of the hostility I and many of my classmates and colleagues face is rooted from some sense of fear in the condescending generations. My sophomore year in high school, I took up an interest in political science literature. One of the first novels that I read was Rules for Radicals by Saul Alinsky. From that book, I’ve taken a lot of insight that has since related to my own life.
Perhaps the most prominent thing that stuck out to me was how adamant Alinsky was that the youth of a community can be successful in creating better institutions than those that are preexisting. The whole idea of destroying what’s already in place is what makes the whole thing intimidating.
“They can still cling to the old values in the simple hope that everything will work out somehow, some way,” Alinsky states. “Unable to come to grips with the world as it is, they retreat in any confrontation with the younger generation with that infuriating cliche, ‘when you get older you’ll understand.’ One wonders at their reaction if some youngster were to reply, ‘when you get younger, which will never be, then you’ll understand, so of course you’ll never understand.’”
This got me thinking, maybe it is the younger generations who understand and the older ones who don’t. Though my generation wasn’t around for Nixon and Vietnam or Ronald Reagan and the conservative revolution, we have learned about it all from an outside perspective (unlike our parents who lived it and, whether it was a conscious decision or not, observed it through their own bias).
But instead of appreciating a new view or a different explanation, parents, grandparents and even at times teachers alike all deny the historical interpretations of the past.
It’s nearly impossible to come back at someone older when they’re acting in a patronizing way without coming off as overly defensive or self-absorbed. It’s also almost as if retaliating truly serves no purpose if the individuals facing retaliation have no respect for what they’re hearing.
In all honesty, many adults do know more than I do, but at the same time they need to realize that just because they may be in a position of authority does not mean they are the only ones with a right to speak. Instead of pushing down the opinions of a young adults, older individuals should work to understand the thought process behind them (even if they may think it’s below them).
If you’re reading this as one of my fellow students, understand that while you don’t have to fight back to prove your point, you also don’t have to step down. If you’re reading this as an adult, understand that while students and adolescents below you may not know the complete ins and outs of the world, their thoughts and ideas still deserve the exact same amount of respect and appreciation that yours do.
Regardless of age or experience, everyone should have and value an open mind above all else. Without one, progress is impossible.