June 2021
Leaves from My Notebook
Elaine Greensmith Jordan

Robots in My Neighborhood

Caution and conformity in young people is puzzling

I have a long list of complaints about aging, of course. Along with worrying about arthritis, I worry about the teens I see around me. Their lives seem so complicated — so overwhelmed by social media. However, I’m delighted to see many of them confronting life with daring energy. When I saw some young people wearing tee shirts that said ‘Wild and Free,’ the message reminded me how much I love feisty teenagers.

Preschool artwork courtesy Del E.Webb Family Enrichment Center

It’s the obedient ones who worry me — those not threading their way through our confusing culture, suffering and learning as they find their way. It’s as if they’re hiding, kept from the world so completely that they don’t understand it.

While in my community they often grow up to be honest and hard-working, I find bland, well-behaved youth dull. My aging soul is not enriched — or surprised, or charmed — by robotic predictability. Though kindly folk on the whole, some young people are intolerant of diversity and horrified by everything from Harry Potter to sex education. While I don’t want our youth to defy civility, curse at me, ride roughshod over the landscape or hurt animals, I’d like to see some original thinking from that corner. I’d like them to look through wide windows open to the world and let in a freshness.

My teenage neighbor Linda finds me dangerous because I favor reproductive choice for women. She’s going to stay chaste, she says, until she gets married. Linda seems to be a classic example of a strictly controlled Bible-believing girl who’s kept at home, forbidden television, and monitored in social situations. She tells me her father beats her when she disobeys the rules of family and church. I imagine Linda trapped behind sturdy fortress walls.

Linda concerns me not only because she’s ill treated but also because she’s as lost to us as the woman hidden behind a scarf in Iran. It seems to me we have to allow our young people a chance question what’s out there — what I call critical thinking. While young people always need guidance, our youth need to make their journey unimpeded by the domination of church or the tyranny of heavy-handed fathers. It’s not overstated, I think, to call that overprotection a betrayal.

Youthful, counterculture exuberance ... is the mark of a healthy society.

I wish these passive teens could stand their ground and try on more muscular thinking. They say we lack moral fiber. What is moral fiber anyway?

The glory of being young, as I see it, is a capacity to shock us, to push the rest of us around a corner. I’d like them to confront us and our certainties. Lately we’ve seen young people march against oppression, call for justice, and exhort us to work for climate change. That sort of youthful, counterculture exuberance — made visual in some eccentric clothing — is what I feel is the mark of a healthy society. I’m thinking of young people such as David Hogg and Alex Wind, who have been at the center of a massive youth movement for gun control after a massacre at their school. Marley Dias, at fourteen, wrote a book with a black heroine because she was tired of reading about white boys and their dogs, she said.

Nothing’s wrong with wholesome living, but it should be evaluated as much as any other way of life. I think the young should badger, question, confront society and ask penetrating questions we don’t want to answer. If we keep them closeted or marching in robotic lockstep, I don’t think they can bring a worthwhile response to our complex society. Give me a quarrelsome, fired-up teen and I’ll show you a human being on the way to wisdom.

If compliant youth would look through the slits in their walls at me, I’d enjoy fixing them with an aging brown eye. I’d argue with them about the flag and the Bible and the sanctity of marriage between a man and a woman. I have some experience in the marriage department.

Elaine Jordan, author of Mrs. Ogg Played the Harp, is a local editor who’s lived in Prescott for thirty years.