Wednesday, 27 November 2013

Earning the Respect of Our Children

We often hear it said that young people have no respect anymore. Why should they? What have we, the adults, done to earn it? Half the adults in this 2011 survey said we should beat children with sticks if they don’t do what we tell them or should they dare emulate us before the time we say they are allowed to. The truth is we should be asking how our children see us.

The majority of the looters in the craze of ‘shopping with violence’ that swept the UK in 2011 weren’t young people, they were adults with previous convictions for stealing. Rarely does a month go by without news of corruption in the adult world, including police, media and government. Tax evasion and benefit fraud are commonplace. Schools are regularly sued by parents for compensation, often over something that would’ve been shrugged off a generation ago. Everyone has their hand in the sweetie jar. Meanwhile children are denied access to the natural world that’s being destroyed by adult greed and incompetence and are kept indoors by parents paralysed by fear, exposed to a sensational media obsessively telling everyone what a mess the world run by adults is.

My generation will be remembered as the one that always looked to others for excuses rather than to themselves. We venerate our grandparents as heroes of a just war despite the all too human failings of that era. We vilify our children as barbarians at the walls of our magnificent, indignant moral empire. We blame our parents for locking up all the middle-class money in their property investments, leaving us to earn our own fortunes in a madly spiralling economy. We plough through all that has gone before to find comfort in meaning and entertainment already familiar to us, not daring to try anything new in case it fails to live up to standards skewed by nostalgia. Films are remade again and again yet usually fail to achieve the status of the originals, unable to evoke the same fond, inaccurate memories. We re-hash the same fashions we or our parents grew up with, at best being inspired by the finest motifs of the period and at worst blindly assimilating those elements of a style that makes it to the high street.

As a society we relentlessly pursue commerce for its own sake with no thought of the long-term consequences, concerned only with our own personal conveniences. We fill our children’s lives with substitutes for love, nurture and attention while we remain absent from their sides spending our days with our noses hard against the grindstone so we can earn more money to throw at the problems our work-centric lives create. And we wonder how anyone dare not show us respect for all the hard work we do. We wonder how young people, genetically programmed to challenge establishments, have the gall to disobey us. We forget the indolence we grew up with ourselves and the rebellious heroes who shaped and inspired us. Marlon Brando in The Wild One, James Dean in Rebel Without a Cause, David Bowie in his Ziggy Stardust days, Marc Bolan, The Sex Pistols, The Clash, Morrisey… Rebels who challenged everything society stood for and who caused outrage whenever they raised their sneering, disrespectful heads. It’s always been this way.

The one thing my generation has done that I am most proud of is to begin to recognise and address the problems caused by the ugliness and extremities of previous generations’ attitudes. One such issue was the use of violence against children to gain their obedience. Now it seems many of us learnt nothing and will happily teach our children that brutality is a valid argument and that power justifies cruelty. We’ve already convinced our children they have no future on a poisoned planet with corrupt institutions and dwindling resources, and soon perhaps we will show them that we are willing to sacrifice anything if we think it might make our meaningless and miserable lives pass a little easier.

Or perhaps we can inspire generations to come while honouring the memory of our ancestors by taking the opportunity to change how we live, re-imagine the way we obtain and distribute energy, stop the culture of entitlement that has turned luxuries into perceived necessities, and take responsibility for our own lives and the world we live in by each and every one of us striving to become an adult. We shall see.

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