Breaking down walls

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by L. G. William Chapman, B.A., LL.B.

Given the choice, I would prefer to break into a crowd of octogenarians rather than intrude upon an assembly of youth. Young people scare me. From a distance I find them a prickly bunch, inordinately confident and potentially rude. At the very least I have difficulty imagining what they must be thinking, and I have always given them the benefit of being inherently wicked and malicious. Granted, the really young ones (the ones who are still small and young enough to harbour a becoming fear of adults) are not as threatening; but once they have acquired the ability to speak and think for themselves, watch out!

Nothing brings out the mischievous in young people more than a congregation of them. In a crowd, they become a force apart from themselves, seemingly feeding on their own liveliness. When that happens, they are an impenetrable conglomerate. They appear to lose any sense of personal responsibility and are totally taken by the mood of the assemblage.

I have occasionally attempted to analyze the feeling of intimidation which young people engender in me. It is unquestionably a lack of familiarity and communication, though that admission does little to assuage my fears. Never having had children, I am largely unfamiliar with their devices. While I continue to view children as surreptitious, I frankly reprove myself for being unable to finesse their ploys. On the other hand, I, like most people who are driven to distraction by children, find that I am less than sympathetic to their goings-on when they invade my personal space. On such occasions, however, I have learned that one must be extremely cautious of any particular course of action. Young people are only too aware of their entitlement to be treated with kid gloves (pardon the pun). This heightened awareness is the product of everything from child abuse, overly zealous corporeal punishment and – what is more likely – a general sensitivity to proprieties which invariably have greater application to them than to others. This posture is not in the least mollified by parents and guardians of children. Parents, who frequently choose to ignore the faults of their off-spring, are quick to condemn any particle of control or admonishment leveled at their children, preferring instead to derail the process by raising the flag of social injustice and some wishy-washy theory of sweetness and light; and if that fails, then a choice of simple ignorance or laissez-faire is adopted whereby they effectively wash their hands of them. As far as I can tell, everyone seeks to relieve themselves of any responsibility for the acts of children. When confronted with a decision, something as esoteric as lawful jurisdiction takes on a pertinence more suitable to a Court-of-Law, which is probably where even the most inconsequential transgression could end up. Gone are the days of a swift kick in the rear and boxing the ears!

The social contract is all about boundaries. In our enthusiasm to deliver the goods to our young people I feel we have forgotten the importance of cultivating mutual respect, which of course implies stopping to think about others as well as one’s self. This is hardly a hot topic among youth. In fact everything I can see from this guarded distance portrays little more than self-absorption, which is really a very unattractive attribute in the long run. If one continues through life being self-possessed, it is a matter of time before the ceiling comes crashing down upon one’s head. Unfortunately I know of very little education directed to the life-skills and value of cooperation and harmony.

All this complaint is by way of background (and juxtaposition) to an invitation which I received to attend a "meet and greet" at a local youth group which had recently relocated its office to new digs in the area. As a result of a number of complaints from local residents arising concerning the conduct of certain of the youth, the adult leaders of the group organized this meeting, the purpose of which was to acquaint the youth and their new neighbours and hopefully to quell the sour sentiments. It turns out that, for my part at least, the meeting was a success. At the meeting the children were asked to introduce themselves. It became apparent that I knew the parents and grandparents of several of them. I was also able to share with some of them some local history, events about which I had heard many years ago from then senior members of the community and which I now passed along to another younger generation. Apart from that, however, the real success of the gathering was that it removed the icy distance which so often separates people who have never touched one another. Being in close proximity allowed us to see one another without the veneer that disfigures. In addition, the rendez-vous was a reminder that most of the youth, just like any other segment of society, are perfectly solid people. From the perspective of the youth, I suspect they may have recognized the significance of their own actions when suddenly associated with other members of their immediate family.