I have seen a lot of criticism of ‘young people’ in the media and on social media over the last few days, much of it centred around their voting choices. It has been stated that young people who voted Labour simply did not understand what they were voting for; or that they were seduced into voting for Jeremy Corbyn because he was promising them something for nothing — because all 18-24 year olds believe the world owes them a living, and want everything given to them on a plate. Worse still, I have seen it suggested that the voting age should be raised to 25 or more. Most of this has been driven by the ‘Stale, Male, Pale, and Privileged’.
I’m also pale and stale, but not economically privileged; perhaps this is why I see things differently.
Older people are NOT automatically wise and knowledgeable. Wisdom is not the preserve solely of the elderly and ‘experienced’. Wisdom is a tendency one is born with. You know how some people, even at a young age, seem to have a knack for making good decisions and handling situations well? That is because they have this tendency. Yes, they will make mistakes along the way, but they will always learn from them. But there are others who lack this capacity, they just keep making the same mistakes over again: they will never be wise no matter how old they get.
Young people today generally possess far more knowledge than previous generations. This is not surprising since they have grown up in the age of the internet, and are accustomed to having a wide range of information sources at their fingertips 24/7. I used to worry about how much time my children spent on their devices until I realised that they weren’t just playing games or watching inane videos. They were using the internet to research, not just their homework, but the things that interested them. Their schooldays included lessons that I never had – Citizenship and PHSE. The RE curriculum no longer concentrates solely on the Judeo-Christian tradition, but has broadened to include not just other faiths, but ethics also. I have had several testy conversations with my daughter regarding my stance on some of the hot-topic ethical issues of today. She does not blindly agree with me, nor does she completely disagree in order to assert her independence. She has formed a nuanced opinion somewhere in the middle, and her arguments hold water. There are areas where I think they show naivety, but this is due not to a lack of ‘life’ experience, but due to a lack of a particular kind of experience. Many much older people also lack this particular experience, and display the same naivety.
It would seem that schoolchildren are being taught not just how to access information, but how to evaluate and prioritise sources. I was shocked during another debate with one of my offspring a while back, when they started lobbing about terms like ‘primary source’ and ‘secondary source’ with an obvious understanding of what they meant. I didn’t learn things like that until I went to University.
I enrolled in University at the age of 45, and studied alongside a group of people mostly less than half my age. I was in awe of their mental agility and energy. They soaked up information like sponges, and were open to new and unusual ideas: not blindly so, no, they would interrogate them, twist them this way and that to explore all the possibilities. They took old ideas and traditional forms and shaped them into something new. Have you ever read a sonnet about someone dropping their iPhone into a pint of beer? You should, it’s so much more relevant to today than ideas of courtly love. My fellow students may not have had a great deal of general ‘life’ experience (though some had a great deal of particular kinds of experience that some others may never have no matter what their age) but they were socially and politically engaged. And they were engaged with what’s happening in the world NOW. We should not discount their opinions.
When I was a teenager my school did not have computers, we were taught from dog-eared, slightly out-of-date textbooks. Many older people cling to dog-eared, outdated conceptions of the social and economic landscape of this country, and the wider world. But the landscape has changed. For instance, when I was at school it was common to have a ‘Saturday job’. My parents urged my kids to get themselves ‘a little Saturday job’, but such jobs no longer exist. My daughter and many of her friends, all full-time sixth-form pupils, routinely work all weekend, and one or more evenings during the week. In addition, now that she is too old to be a Girl Guide anymore, my daughter (and some of her friends) have enrolled in the Senior Section to become Young Leaders, because they know there is a shortage; they feel a sense of responsibility to ensure that other girls coming up behind them have a chance to join Rainbows, Brownies, and Guides too. Is this the action of selfish wastrels who believe the world owes them a living, and expect everything for nothing?
Not one of my fellow students wanted or expected ‘everything for nothing’, either. All engaged in paid employment alongside their studies, and, in addition, some also held voluntary positions. This persistent idea that ‘young people’ are layabouts who expect everything to be given to them on a plate is a load of baseless, bitter nonsense. Perhaps there are some selfish individuals who espouse this mindset of ‘entitlement’, but they do not come exclusively from among young people, or ‘poor’ people either (or any other of the epithets used to describe those who are economically disadvantaged).
On election day my daughter directed a good-natured, but not entirely tongue-in-cheek rant at her grandparents for their voting choices. The conversation threw a light onto the differences between her understanding, and theirs. Far from not understanding what she was voting for (or would have been – she’s a few months short of voting age) she was crystal clear. Her grandparents’ grasp of the policies and issues seemed rather nebulous by comparison.
This was a trait I saw repeated among other older people I found myself drawn into discussions with (but by no means all). Their choices seemed shaped by banner headlines, by who they ‘liked the look of’ (‘I like that so-and-so, you know the bloke, so I think I’ll probably vote for them’), or a desire to ‘stick with’ the same party they’d always voted for in the past, rather than by any great understanding or wisdom. Almost to a man (or woman) each one added ‘It doesn’t matter much at my age’.
It matters to their grandchildren.
My generation, and my own parents’ generation, grew up with the security of guaranteed free healthcare, free education, and affordable housing, and the knowledge that their human rights would be upheld. My children are looking into a future in which none of these things is guaranteed. If they want change, this is understandable. I would argue that they know very well what they are voting for – a fairer society. A society like the one that my generation took for granted, but which some among us, some smug, selfish and privileged individuals now want to deny to others.
Is it ridiculously naive and idealistic of young people, (or indeed anyone at all) to want a fairer society? Finland, Denmark, Norway, and the Netherlands don’t seem to think so.