Intergenerational Angst by William Klein

I was walking at the old school. One of the silver haired walkers said, “These kids today have no respect for their elders.” 

I said, “What have we done to earn our respect? Have we kept them safe from harm in schools? Have we kept them healthy? Do we listen to them and acknowledge their voices? Have we protected their rights? Have we left this world better than we found it?”

Global warming is real. We’re leaving them a world that is in dire straits when it comes to extreme weather conditions. We have not met the concerns of the UN initiatives to curb the greater threats of global warming and the UN panels on climate have noted that we are past the point of no return.

We have a society that is in love with violence and guns and places that above their interests. See Sandy Hook. See Marjorie Stoneman Douglass. See Uvalde. The list goes on. There is no political will to meet the demands of Americans who agree that there should be regulations including backgrounds checks, red flag laws and ban automatic assault rifles that are used in war and their only purpose is to ensure the death of someone.

For my gun friends that say “it’s the individual not the gun that kills,” there has been no political will to help fight mental health issues in this country, either. Insurance lobbies make it seemingly impossible to tackle, as legislators know that more people would take advantage of getting help and could jeopardize the interests and profit margins of insurance industries.

We have not kept children safe from health viruses.  Just look at the way the whole Covid virus was handled. That virus is still with us and some health officials speculate that it will be here in some form for years to come.

Just moments before my fellow walker raised this question, his wife raised a point that kids today have nowhere to go. In our day we had US Skates, Space Invaders Video Arcade, and Pizza parlors. We have become such an insulated society that students don’t need to go somewhere to get their video game fix. They can do it at home. I’ve seen a few game parlors but accessibility is tough and the costs make it too expensive for all to enjoy. Many close pretty quickly due to high overhead.

There are gang zones in the inner city where students have to run home due to fear of being recruited or harassed. More and more students are coming from broken homes and look to other avenues to get their attention. Some inner city students become prisoners of their own homes, afraid to leave for fear of being targeted by gangs.

The cost of living is higher and some people work two or three jobs but still struggle to provide a livable wage to their families. The last federally adjusted raise of minimum wage was in 2009 and that was $7.25 an hour. Most of the poor states that rely on federal assistance still abide by that wage in their state.

I posed this question to my family members and found some interesting responses. My brother- in-law, Joe, reminds me, “Kids today are not more or less respectful than we were, nor our parents or even Cave-Kids. Perspective changes and old people convince themselves that “we” worked harder, respected our elders etc. People grow into their grumpy old attitudes.”

Joe read a letter in the New York Times that documented the disrespect of this generation that documented it with solid examples. Turns out, the quote in the paper took place in 1902.

My nieces point out that “I think it depends on how you were raised because I was always told to respect elders no matter what, hold the door for them, get up if they want to sit down, but I know some kids who weren’t taught that way.” Another added, “All people deserve my respect whether they are younger or older than me.”

Another great answer!

No doubt the problems stated above will continue to persist, but it begs the question, “What are we each doing individually to change the situation for our children?” What role does hypocrisy play in our children’s lives?” 

The same issues above are being called out by young generations and double standards are being called out through the youth’s voting habits – which are disavowed by older generations as “youthful indiscretion,” or “young and naïve inexperience.” Call it what you will, but this generation has impacted elections and are willing to stand up and be heard.

Ultimately, Ralph Waldo Emerson measured the value of a life well lived. He said:

“To laugh often and much; to win the respect of intelligent people and the affection of children; to earn the appreciation of honest critics and endure the betrayal of false friends; to appreciate the beauty; to find the best in others; to leave the world a bit better, whether by a healthy child, a garden patch Or a redeemed social condition; to know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived. This is to have succeeded!”

I think maybe each one of us can check the box off of one or two of the above.  But how much have we done as a collective? I think some of our children are figuring it out.

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