If you’re not a liberal at twenty you have no heart, if you’re not a conservative at forty you have no brain.
Yeah, that “conservative at forty” part? That’s what I’m afraid of.
You may remember an old children’s story, Verdi, by Janell Cannon (and if you don’t, the rest of the paragraph is all spoilers). Putting aside “snakes are cool” for a bit (though they are), it’s about a young yellow snake that tries to stop becoming green because that’s the colour of the lazy, boring, and rude adult snakes. Over time, he inevitably molts anyway, but that doesn’t stop him from showing off some figure-8’s to the young uns. The takeaway message, of course, is that you’re still you regardless of age. Which is why I’m still talking about children’s stories (though the 90s are only old in Internet years).
When I think about adulthood, I am reminded of that story since my perception of adults, particularly those who leaned conservative, were very similar. It seemed like adults only cared about their job, escaping their job, money, and telling those damn kids they’re living all wrong (e.g. the above quote). The wider environment is of only tangential concern, with their only problem being other people complaining about global warming and other things. Still, everywhere I look, there are adults having fun, doing amazing stunts, stirring up trouble with the government, and much more. In fact, many have even apologized to us for leaving the world in the state it is now. So why I haven’t really shaken off this prejudice entirely? It’s because of the stereotypical idea of “growing up” that has been drilled into my head since childhood, with mantras ranging from “just a phase” to “entitled generation”.
I was unnerved by the idea of “maturity” meaning “being a dullard who doesn’t give a damn about anything”. I couldn’t imagine a life without at least striving for a job you can enjoy rather than a mere obligation, or making the world a better place for the next generation, or constantly enriching and challenging yourself with new ideas and experiences. What they called “maturity”, I called “giving up on life”. So I made myself a promise: that I would not lose my way.
Of course, I don’t interact with people older than me the same way I do my own age group. It feels like there’s a mental barrier between generations, since values change with time. Even in regards to media, how does one talk about Pokémon to those born before it? I remember when I spent a lunch hour discussing Sarah Polley’s Stories We Tell. During the discussion, we brought up how it was weird that her father said he understood her in a way he never did before. I didn’t think much of that the first time, but now, I did appreciate it, since it felt like making the movie was a way to break down the barrier between them. And well, I felt a similar barrier break down with talking to professors in that discussion, not as superior/subordinate, but as equals.
Honestly, I don’t miss my childhood. I am happy to have gained self-awareness in place of self-centredness. And I do acknowledge that young people can be very naive simply because we haven’t gained as much lived experience. The problem with young people is that they think they know everything. But the problem with older people is, well, the same. The Emperor’s New Clothes was written for this very reason, one of many stories that celebrate the wisdom of youth. Naiveté can be an advantage because the naive haven’t limited themselves to certain perceptions of the world yet, and that’s what I enjoy about still being young: the world feels limitless. And when I think about adults who act the same way: Chris Hadfield, Nik Wallenda, Amy Purdy, Stephen Hawking, I realize that “turning green” won’t be so bad after all. Of course, Rob Ford and Ted Cruz show that age is no barrier to immaturity.
Though I grow older and wiser, In many ways, I haven’t changed much. I’m still wanting to save the animals, buying stuffed toys, and drawing attention to myself with my idiosyncrasies. And telling children’s stories.