YOUNG = LOVELY

photo (2)[Image Credit: Michael Salmon]

 

Some time ago, I taught English Literature to a class of 10 year olds in Sydney, at a tutoring college. It was a group of about 15 kids, and they opted to study ‘Fairy Tales’. One of the most memorable classes we had was a discussion of a story by Oscar Wilde, called ‘The Birthday Of The Infanta’. In this story, the young Infanta (a Spanish princess) is about to have a birthday party. She is a spoiled young woman, who has had everything her own way all her life, courtiers bowing to her wherever she goes. On this, her Special Day, of course the Palace organises birthday celebrations. We are all familiar with these from the numerous children’s parties our kids attend these days. You know what I mean! Jumping Castles, merry-go-rounds, magicians, face painters, people making fairy floss, etc. Well, for the Infanta, a giant tea party is held, and the children are entertained by a group of acrobats, and comical tumblers. Amongst these is a dwarf. And he performs so well, that the Infanta throws him the beautiful flower which she is wearing as a decoration in her hair. Then she retires with her little ladies in waiting for her afternoon siesta (this story is of course set in Spain). But the little dwarf has fallen in love with her. He thinks, because she has thrown him the flower, that she likes him too. And all afternoon, while she is having her siesta, he dreams of their future life together. If only he could see her again! Filled with excitement, he returns to the Palace to find his lady and declare his love. But he cannot find her. As he wanders the vast and numerous rooms, looking for her, he comes into a room where the walls are entirely lined with mirrors. He enters this mirrored room, and sees an ugly and fierce little creature. He does not recognise that it is himself. He has never seen himself before. And when he realises that ‘It’ is ‘Me’ (Himself), the shock hits him with the force of a physical blow: His ‘Lady’ had not loved him! She had just been amused and entertained by his performance at her party!It is too much for him to bear. His disproportionally large heart breaks. He collapses in shock. At this moment, the Infanta, all beautiful and glowing from a day of being the centre of everyone’s attention, surrounded by her little friends, comes into the mirror room and finds her admirer on the floor. She does not understand. She thinks he is performing again. But, after a few minutes, he is still.

She wants him to stop acting dead and get up and do his acrobatics and tumbling, again. And when she is told that his heart has stopped, what does she say? ‘Let all who come to play with me in future have no hearts’.

So – this is not your usual Disney tale of Princesses, right? I asked the kids in the class what they thought the ‘Moral’ of this story was. Kids are used to everything having a moral! I thought: surely they will see – it is a portrayal of narcissism, of the effects of too much parental & societal indulgence and what happens when a child has no-one to model healthy emotional boundaries for them…

But one girl said: ‘It’s so obvious! It means that UGLY people should not EXPECT to be loved!’ And the rest of the class agreed with her! In the discussion that followed, they told me that they did not really believe in happy endings. They saw – to some extent – how ‘messed up’ the real world was, and knew that what was offered to them as ‘advice from their elders’ was in many ways often based on a fairy tale view of the world. As one kid said ‘They tell us what they WISH the world was like. What they WANT it to be’.  I wondered what would happen to this younger generation. They clearly saw things that mine did not have the courage to see. They had outgrown Disneyland, years before schedule. They were very vulnerable in their innocence (and annoying in their arrogant ignorance, at times) and yet in many ways, also admirably free.

The insight that teaching experience gave me has been confirmed many times over, as the years unfolded. Those kids in that class are now in their mid-twenties! And over the years I have found much compelling evidence that they were indeed voicing a radical scepticism that is clearly held by many as a default position, in their generation.

And they have good reason to be sceptical!

A case study: A young woman who ‘shot to fame’ while still a teenager (one of the ways we set the younger generation up to fall is by calling them ‘Unstoppable’, when they are below the age of consent) by starting her own Personal Style blog, was interviewed by a reporter, who confronted her with a ‘hating’ comment made by some random hater which mocked her early style choices and criticised her for being – you know, vapid and inconsequential. Who did she think she was, to set herself up as an oracle at such a young age, or think she had anything to offer the world which could be of any value? Etc.

Many adults indeed have their eye on the younger ‘up & coming’ generation, these days. Youth is seen as a promise of hope, of freshness, vitality and renewal. Springtime. The Tabula Rasa. We project a lot of sentiment and expectations and fantasies onto young people: we see them through a filter which is often distorted by many not-so-pretty feelings: envy, regret, and various forms of longing. They are appealing to all because they seem untouched, undefiled – but not (unfortunately, in this world of human predators) untouchable. Young Adults are the fastest-growing market in the literary and cinematic world. They are the most vulnerable and most impressionable and most savvy and most desirable, most manipulated target for every brand-driven globalised manufacturer who wants access to their piggy banks. They are the apple of our eye, and the paradoxically eroded centre of everything. They are so often Seen, but not often Heard.

That phrase I just put in upper case, do you see that? I did that because that was a phrase that expressed the idealised parenting mantra of previous generations: ‘Children should be seen & not heard’. They should be respectful, and obedient. And – here in Sri Lanka – they should worship their parents by daily prostrating themselves in front of them, to show their absolute veneration for those that raised them. Children who do this are not usually aware enough to know that the people held up to them as worthy of worship & respect are not only flawed, and frail, but (all too often) fake.

Yet many of the young people I am speaking of manifestly know that they are being looked at and observed, and commented on and targeted. They are being ‘Liked’ and ‘Disliked’, ‘Friended’ and ‘Unfriended’, ‘Tagged’ and ‘Poked’ – sometimes on an hourly basis! And some of them have evolved, to play that game themselves: to play up to that attention. It is fascinating to observe, how self-aware and self-conscious they are. And how – paradoxically – transparent.

The most strategic and successful of these self-created wannabe icons construct themselves in words & images, on their social media pages. They manufacture a DIY identikit version of themselves, and endlessly, obsessively, fashion and update and pluck and tweak it. And they have the tools to do it, right in the palm of their hands: Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc. They amplify their CVs and emote on cue in interviews. It must be like a pin-ball game, to them, the modern world: hit the right buttons & play it right & the world lights up for you, in brighter-than-bright primary colours! Future happiness, almost fully guaranteed. A personalised hero’s journey, with mentors and monsters and foes and frenemies.

Today, however, our young people know that there are real monsters in the real world, disguised as those who wish them well: exploiters, abusers, emotionally neglectful parents and carers, narcissists like the ‘Mother’ in the wonderful film ‘Tangled’ singing ‘Mother Knows Best’. A bitter, greedy, hungry old woman literally drawing nourishment from her daughter, at the expense of her daughter’s freedom.

I have heard from friends of students who, when they were old enough to learn to drive, were asked to collect their fathers from casinos where they had passed out from drinking the night before, and others whose ‘Yummy Mummies’ started drinking red wine from over-sized goblets in the middle of the afternoon, and still like to watch re-runs of ‘Not Without My Daughter’ through misty eyes.

And – even in the best homes – young people are acutely aware when their parents are competing with other parents, comparing homes and holidays and cars and clothes and treating their children as extensions of themselves, comparing their academic results against those of their peers, and urging them on, in vying for visibility in beauty pageants. Like ‘Flower’ in ‘Tangled’, we know when we are being used, to further someone else’s ego or hunger for life, survival, attention.

It’s clearly not easy being full of Youth Dew these days! Everyone wants to sell you something, or is trying to get you to win something, or prove something – so we can all believe that something new and fresh and good can emerge from the serried sequences of torment that WAS life, for older people in the late 20th Century, when we ourselves were young.

Adults should be truthful & say, to the emerging generation: ‘We want to bottle you, and package you and pitch you and sell you. To bring some freshness back into our tired old lives!’ Celebrities and so-called success stories like ‘Queen Bey’ Beyoncé and the Kardashians have erupted like a brash, noisy, self-referencing plague all over the world, telling young people that it’s ’empowering’ for women to call each other ‘bitches’, and to expose their bodies in magazines, with their sexual organs uppermost like those exotic flowers which are brightly coloured by Mother Nature to ensure pollination, to sell digitally altered images of themselves to ‘break the Internet’, to ‘take charge’ and commodify their own beauty and position themselves to hit the centre of the eye of every beholder. This pornographic self-promotion is called ‘Feminism’ and ‘unapologetic’ behaviour, and the defence that is made of it is itself a brazen  assertion: ‘Can anyone who criticises me do what I have done? Can they match my success? Can they build a multi-billion dollar retail empire on the basis of a sex tape? I am evidence that women can be smart as well as sexy! I am an entrepreneur. I am a role model! Bow down, b****es! I’d like to see YOU do it!’ Here’s a tip: listen for how many times these people say: ‘I’ or ‘My’. LOL.

 

But it really is no laughing matter. The Kardashians’ mother made them into everything they are today. She made them and she sold them, and now they are selling themselves. And imprinting their artificially enhanced images on the minds of their impressionable Followers, who think that all that glitters is gold, and (because they are relatively inexperienced in the ways of the world) fail to see the brazenness beneath. In London in the 18th Century, a woman would be called a ‘bawd’, if she was openly selling her own daughters into prostitution. And it was a felony. Today she is called a ‘Matriarch’ and an ‘Entrepreneur’. And profits by it: although she actually loses by every transaction, in every measure of value but the material. She knowingly contrives and constructs an image and sells her children as embodiments of it. So much for motherly love, and words to a daughter!

What do we love about young people? Their potential. The hope they offer: of as yet unfulfilled and budding promise. Theirs? Not so much! Often, what adults see in youth is their own lost or forgotten selves – before they were tainted and twisted and traumatised and tempted and tarnished by the world. Young people, finding their voice, speaking up and speaking out and dreaming the impossible dreams which are at the absolute core of our romantic illusions, can ‘go where we dare not follow.’ However, it may be really hard for them to find their ‘voice’, they are so busy showing us what they think and imagine we want to see.

But they are not voiceless. They are just seldom heard. Personally, I blame the Romantic poet William Wordsworth for this. On the Eve of the French Revolution, he wrote ‘Bliss was it in that dawn to be alive/ But to be young was very heaven’. Can you see what he did there? By using the conjunction ‘But’, [which is a ‘Discourse Marker’ btw, which differentiates what comes before from what comes after, and privileges what comes after], he glorified youth as a superlative and exalted state, the most desired era of our existence. This same understandable delusion was described this way to me quite recently: ‘Everyone wants to be young… and to experience pleasure in every facet’.

Youthful people are seen as FULL of life!But this idea describes our IMAGINED youth! In fact, in reality, it is hardly ever like that. For many young people, it is a time of confusion, panic, anxiety, and even shame. They see the targets that are held up for them, and fear that they will fail to reach them: and fail not just in a small way, but in an ‘EPIC’ way, viewed by everyone they imagine is looking at them. Because everything is and must be a superlative, they are told: You must be the  ‘Biggest, Best, Most Beautiful, Most Successful, Brightest, Tallest, Loveliest’ and – of course – the ultimate accolade, in our youth-obsessed world: ‘Youngest’, which carries with it all that aforementioned super-charged sense of unfolding excitement!

We should really teach our young people to be careful – to be sceptical of cliches and sentimental truisms, so often uttered by our so-called authority figures, which, under their smooth and deceptive surfaces, conceal a tangled mass of delusion and hypocrisy and often emptiness where a heart should be. Oh, and ABOVE ALL: we should warn them to be careful of those who use superlatives and high modal utterances – which people today habitually use to describe and present themselves: the relentless series of FB posts in which all the curated images of their lives are inflated and airbrushed and washed with irridescence: where everything is ‘wonderful’, and ‘fabulous’ and amped up, in this consumer-driven world of hyper-reality, where they must surely think – from all visible evidence  – that every single person in their ambient awareness is striving competitively for visibility and celebrity.

We should say to them: Be Real. Keep It Real. And we should model that authenticity for them. And then, you see, when we listen to them, they will hear us. And we them. (But not want to BE them.)

The generational divide these days is like a clash of mirrored misapprehensions. While we project our opinions onto them, young people have dreams and fantasies of their own. I dedicate this article to all who believe that children are our future.

Interview 2 – `Star Bright’

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Jadah Kundanmal is  a  Sri Lankan A-level student, studying Psychology as well as English and Business Studies. She agreed to answer some questions about the Big Issues in life, from her POV:
Q1 Jadah, in your view, do teachers, other adults & parents put pressures on their kids unknowingly?

JK: In my perspective, allowing the young ones to be more aware of issues could benefit both parties. The child and the adult, as the child will give  their opinion on the situation and this would create a broader image to the adult. The young ones in this generation are generally mature enough to comprehend certain situations adults deal with, so rather than viewing their response with a bias I believe that adults could really gain something out of their opinions and potentially change  their views on the young ones and be aware that they too have a strong mind of their own.

However – for example – letting your 15 year old know about every single problem you adults deal with can be tough on the child as he /she could go into a potential depression, depending on how vast the problem is, but subsequently he/she will come to an understanding that depending on whatever situation it is whether it’s a good thing or a bad the child would rightfully become more responsible and be more conscious about ‘Real problems ’ rather than worrying about break -ups that happen on television series. This will affect the adult’s life and child’s life in a positive manner.

I strongly suggest that: before projecting any issues with your young ones, adults should be aware of the consequences of their actions. As then your problems will become theirs and this can blind them from their own life problems and goals. Positivity plays a lead role when it comes to achieving something: no one can be depressed and have the will power and rational mind set to succeed. I understand as adults life can be complicated and tough and you are bound to feel lonely along the way, but remember that a child is battling to build their own future and your sorrows can turn into their losses. So even in the darkest of times be wise because once something has been said it cannot be erased.

 

Q2: Self-esteem is a prevalent issue, in your age group, we are told. Your views?

JK:  Well, I believe as a teenager/young adult there are always complications when it comes to believing whether or not you are ‘good enough’ in some aspect or the other, it can bring you down and this very issue can make people want to fight it, this is when pressure kicks in as no matter how hard you try to succeed, if you let yourself believe that you are not good enough you are never going to make it.

 

In society today, I understand that physical appearance plays a lead role in how someone would initially judge someone, so the urge to stand out and be the best in comparison to everyone really is a pressure in this society today. It is really sad how people in this world decide to suddenly believe that the only way someone is going to like them as a person is if they go on a diet and lose 20 kilos, or that wearing the most expensive bag around will get them an extra 2 to 3 new admirers. Judging someone based on their looks has  turned into a trend that is non- immune to change. This pressure about wanting to stand out can be viewed in a positive manner because wanting to stand out and be good at something is a great thing if It is for a good reason – but the thing is that the majority of people do not intend to stand out for the right reasons. There is a lot of jealousy involved, especially through materialistic things as I guess it’s a way of presenting that they have something the other doesn’t. Being completely honest,  I do not wish to be an ordinary individual, we only have one life to live and I want to live it to the fullest, so do not get me wrong: wanting to stand out is honestly a beautiful thing, it is such a great psychological motivation because it pushes each of us into becoming better in our own way, but do it for yourself and not for society.

Q3: What do you see as the most significant challenges you & your peers face, and how do you think you will deal with them?

JK: Alcohol – most of the people my age or younger would have dealt with or will deal with this, depending on their own situations and thinking ability. A lot of people seem to be drinking now and it is almost viewed as a normal action because of the majority of people that consume it. Growing up with friends that do it can probably be tough because maybe you always have the urge to do it, you probably feel left out or you feel that you do not fit in. So you allow yourself to get into thinking that ‘okay, maybe this isn’t so bad. What could one sip/ glass do to me, by the end of the day my friends will be proud to call me one of their own because I’ve finally got the courage to take risks.’ Or you are out having a boys’ night out and everyone in your friend circle is having a drink and you feel obliged to have one yourself even though you know you do not want one. You are afraid that people will think you are not manly enough. This is just an example of a type of pressure young people have to deal with, but it all adds up to one thing, the constant battle with yourself allowing yourself to think that you are not good enough. So I suggest that you stop worrying about what people have to say, because at the end of your journey no one is going to be next to you for sure, and if you live a life where you have to keep proving to other people that you are worth it you would never have the time to stop and appreciate yourself. I understand growing up with a generation like ours is extremely tough because people can be extremely judgemental when they chose to be, but do not stop living your life because of them. Grow for yourself and be a happy individual this way no matter how hard they try to bring you down:  if you let them do that, you would not be a part of what society has in store for you.

Q4: Intense rivalries? Difficult to navigate, at times?

 JK: Yes it really is.  In my previous question I mentioned that competing to be better than each other has really blinded people. It gets pretty hectic, but then again there will always be competition at any age. Even a seven year old kid wants to have more toys than her/his friend but it only intensifies at our age in my perspective. Where we do not agree with many people who would go to any extent into achieving what they need to, this again can be a good thing as it shows how determined someone could be which as we get older is a harder mindset to persuade ourselves to have.

Q5. Do you think some of our society elders are right, when they say that young people have lost their way? Kind of lured by materialism & lacking a sense of groundedness?

JK: I have learnt a lot of things actually but I mainly understood the value of my parents and how important it is to always have a truthful and open relationship with them no matter how old I get. I know that education is the only way I would ever become successful and yes everyone is aware of this fact but I believe some of us take it for granted and this causes us to lose the real meaning of it.  I learnt that the only way someone could truly be happy is if you let God into your life and allow him to guide you through life because without God I would not have any light in my life so even though I would be living it, I would not be able to feel it. I learnt that I should appreciate everything whether it is small or big. I understand that in order to grow in life you are allowed to be selfish sometimes if that’s what it takes to get you to where you want to be in life because at the end of your journey it will be you that will benefit from it and no one else.

I have learnt to become more compassionate to all kinds of different people and I strongly understand how helping someone else would not only help them but it can affect your life and you can become a greater human being in your actions and thinking ability. I have also experienced the meaning of love in both dark and light shades in life, from my family and my close friends. I learnt that betrayal is not a hard thing to overcome and it can be healed in time. Time is also very precious to me and I would never take it for granted. Overall I have learnt to see the good in every situation and this has really helped me in many ways as now I believe that no matter what situation I have to face, it all happens for a reason and either I would learn from it or it will just be a reward at the end.

Q6: What motivates you? Please use as many words as you like!

JK: Motivation is the toughest part as it is so easy to get carried away, sticking to it can be a struggle but having a set mind helps. I like to visualize everything I need to achieve and picture myself already achieving it so every time I get the tendency to give up, I close my eyes and allow myself to feel the sensation I get when picturing what my life can be like if I stick to what I have to do and I crave that feeling of happiness so I throw away the negatives.

A lot of things play a lead role in my motivation: the first thing would be God, I know that He would not want me to waste my life doing absolutely nothing and so I try to understand the potential I have and keep going. I have a few dreams that hopefully will turn into reality someday: one of these is, that I want to make it into the singing industry and slowly small opportunities are coming my way, which motivates me immensely.  When I sing/practice, I create an illusion that I’m doing it in front of an audience  so there is no room for errors. This motivates me because every time I get better I’m one step closer to being where I want to be someday putting aside my other ambitions, this is my passion. I give credit to the people around me now that are such great influences in my life and they too motivate me because in their own ways they are inspiring. So having good friends is important because they will push you and make you understand that this is where you want to be. When I’m bored or just need a kick to wake myself up I watch a few inspiring youtube videos that help me to stay motivated and make all my goals seem a bit more fun which I guess is okay. I also want to be a strong, positive minded individual so doing good things for myself keeps me on the right track. My parents have also motivated me with their strength and support, because in everything that I have wanted to do in life till today they have completely supported me. Finally I would say that if you truly want whatever you need to accomplish in life, you will do it with no hesitation because it becomes something you love doing and when you love something you do not complain!  So I believe it is highly up to you – at the end, I am responsible for my motivation and so are you for yours.

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