It’s a new world and, once this pandemic is over, it will be a newer world. Maybe today’s young are nothing like the young of previous generations. Maybe, we should leave them alone
Before the pandemic, I honestly didn’t envy the young, though I was surrounded by them and, by young, I mean 20 and up to the age it dawned on me that I was old—48. But now, I am changing my mind. I can’t wait to see what this life will become once the pandemic is done with us. Already, in my view, it is a changed world, but it has yet to emerge from this dark period into a new light, like dirty laundry fresh out of the washing machine.
I am more interested, though, in what promises to be our version of the Renaissance coming out of the Dark Ages, with a pandemic, the Black Death, making it inevitable. Don’t get me wrong: I won’t say that the past 200 years would be anything like the Dark Ages, otherwise known as the Middle Ages or the Medieval Times, during which, after the fall of the Roman Empire, a wealth of recorded events and evidence of human feats in art, science, engineering, and technology was lost. That’s why historians call it the Dark Ages, you know.
Reading is a taste, I realize now, and should this pandemic lock you up at the New York Public Library with 55 million reading items, it won’t necessarily have you pick up the habit of reading, if it’s really not to your liking.
It hosted the two World Wars, not to mention all these other dark episodes in human history, such as Mao Zedong’s Great Leap Forward and Adolf Hitler’s Nazi Germany, but the 20th century was also a time of great triumph. We learned to fly. We landed on the moon. We changed our view of women so much that we made them heads of state—Sirimavo Bandaranaike, Indira Gandhi, Golda Meir, Corazon Aquino, Benazir Bhutto. We have eradicated many of what our predecessors thought of as the wrath of God, polio, for instance, and small pox, even leprosy and tuberculosis in some smaller measure. Let’s not even talk about radio, TV, airconditioning and refrigeration, electrification, and the Internet. I’ll have to use up this entire column just to list everything down.
Not to say I’m taking a step back to see how you young people who will inherit the world will handle this extra challenge that is all at once a great opportunity to leap into something new and, with hope, better, but I guess already times have changed. Life has changed not so much because of this pandemic, but long before it, since my generation grew up enough to raise children of their own in a milieu and in a way so different from how our parents raised us.
Since the new year is only a couple of weeks old and, finally, after dilly-dallying about whether or not I still believe in turning a new leaf for myself, I’ve come up with these five New Year Resolutions centered on my attitude toward the young people around me.
1. If you must twiddle your thumbs on your iPhone touchscreen while talking to me, go ahead, woe to good manners and right conduct! I still think it’s incredibly rude (which I myself am guilty of because much of the stuff I do nowadays, including writing and editing articles, is on my phone), but maybe that is your world now, so I’ll leave you to it. But also, I am happy to share that once I was about to blow my cool trying to talk to this kid who was busy with his smartphone, only to realize—and early enough to prevent me from putting my foot in my mouth—that he was Googling what I was telling him about because, I assume, he was interested. So I’ll give you kids the benefit of the doubt, though I am pretty sure that some of you are just playing Pokemon Go.
2. I’ll shut up about reading, once I give up thinking, hoping you can fall in love with books. Reading is a taste, I realize now, and should this pandemic lock you up at the New York Public Library with 55 million reading items, it won’t necessarily have you pick up the habit of reading, if it’s really not to your liking. Your loss, not mine. I keep my fingers crossed that all this talk about kids not reading anymore is a lie because why, why, why don’t you want to live multiple lives in a single book? Why, why, why do you deprive yourself of such riches? OK, I’ll shut up now because I’d like to entertain the possibility that maybe your generation is busy with other things, that maybe you think all that’s been written is already in the past and all you want before you, as you march forward, is a blank page, metaphorically speaking.
3. I won’t expect you to be singleminded about your goals or to be true to your word. I have long accepted that you have been raised to think that you can have anything and everything you want in this world, so naturally I must work around the fact that you will constantly change your mind, even about your promises. Is there anything wrong about multitasking? Is there anything wrong with wanting to be this and that and everything in between? Is it so wrong to break your promises because fulfilling them will not serve you anymore? Yes, yes, and yes, something has to give and there is something timeless about honoring your word but I am from a world that is at least half-done while you are in a world just coming up, so I will try my very best not to get in the way when you want your cake and eat it too.
4. I understand that finding the job you love is a privilege that doesn’t always come with the money you need. I will refrain from giving the advice that a job you love, even if it is a pain in the neck, even if it doesn’t pay you enough to make long-term plans, is a treasure. In my entire career, I’ve put money aside. I’ve never matured enough to demand anything or even to negotiate or even to ask for what I think I deserve, but following the advice of one of my mentors, I always include my personal happiness in the computation and so I soldier on, often refusing to open up when money-making opportunities knock on my door. But yes, you need to think about money. You won’t be young for long. Just consider that the privilege to find a job worth sacrificing for doesn’t always feel like it’s worth sacrificing for, until you have had enough failures and successes to figure out whether or not your sacrifices have amounted to anything. That is the price of living a life of passion.
5. This isn’t a promise because I’ve always been interested in language, old or new, formal or street, and I do try to keep up. I can see when you intentionally write your i’s in lowercase. I understand your love for acronyms (though I hate it when used merely and lazily as jargon, and not stylistically). I appreciate your knack for word play. And I understand that grammar is a living thing. It, too, changes, but until it does, I can’t promise to look the other way when, out of sloppiness, you use amongst or calibre when the standard is American usage or to spell it as among or caliber in British English. I can’t promise not to have a meltdown when you spell out numbers one to nine in one sentence and then use numerals in the next. I can’t promise not to lose my temper when I see you consistently, repeatedly, even after constant reminder, fail to see the distinction between “how it looks” and “what it looks like.” Your parents must have made you believe you are the king or the queen of the world, but you can’t be entitled enough to leave me to dot your i’s and cross your t’s. That’s nothing new. That’s just plain, old laziness.