Are you dismayed about youth these days? Do you turn on the TV and see young people degrading themselves in the name of fame? Just today, while grocery shopping, I was audience to a “gentleman” speaking on his cell phone. As he strode among the avocadoes and butternut squash, expletives spewed from his lips, fast and furious. “And cheese, too?” he asked between profanities. We may be tempted to go on long jags about “kids these days”, yet I’m here to tell you – - all is not lost!
Last week, I spent time with a young man, a college student. He is in love with a coed. Though the young woman cares for him, she keeps him at arm’s distance. This does not seem to deter him. He watches out for her, makes sure her needs are met, has fun with her, laughs with her, prays with her.
I am in awe of this young man. Clearly, he was raised well. And, well, he thinks. He is not operating on impulses or even pure heart; his mind is at work as he considers the girl and what she might need or want in this life. Is she thirsty? He brings her a drink. Might she be cold? He offers his hat to her. Would she like to do something fun? They toss a Frisbee at the beach.
As a college adjunct for over a decade, I spend loads of time with students in their late teens and early twenties. Over the years, I’ve noticed a decline in deep, engaged thought processes in my students. Perhaps the internet has caused a change in the way brains function, as noted in the New York Times best seller, The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains by Nicholas Carr. Or it may be as Bertrand Russell noted, “Most people would rather die than think; in fact, they do so.”
I accept that other factors may be at play as well, but, simply put, my students don’t think much. Not only do they not think, they are offended when I challenge them, “Think!” Their answers are always quick and easy to understand. Nuance does not exist. Issues are not multi-faceted. Put these young people in charge of world affairs, and they’re sure they’d have matters well in hand by dinner time. Investing time and attention into someone or something of merit holds no allure for them.
As an instructor of English, I don’t provide formulas to solve problems. I don’t dictate dates. We discuss. In literature courses, our entire focus is on finding meaning in texts. Personalities and backgrounds differ, so levels of engagement vary, but the inclination of students to opt out of class discussions suggests they fail to engage in life. Usually though, at least a few students engage with me; this sometimes inspires others to share details about their lives.
Many are children of divorce. They reject the concept of loving one person “forever” because they have not experienced it in their own homes. They often speak of their grandparents when they want to reference a long marriage or a deep-seated love.
These young people are, I would argue, of the proper age (if there is one) to fall in love. They are neither too old, nor too young. Yet often, they are not in love; they are skeptical of commitment and wary of marriage.
In addition to a disdain of “true” love, my students hold a parallel distrust of a personal pledge. I have been informed by numerous students that when a person “gives their word” on something, it does not mean anything. People lie all the time; you can’t trust anyone. We say whatever we want, and none of it holds any meaning over the long haul.
Yet all is not lost.
A few semesters back, a young coed came bouncing up the aisle of my class (eyes shining, face beaming) as she pleaded, “Can I take this call? It’s my boyfriend—from Afghanistan!!!” There have been a few who have approached me with tears in their eyes. Tragedy strikes, they grieve and grapple to make sense of things. Feelings still exist.
Then there is the young man I spent time with last week. When I saw him, being himself; that is, when I saw him in love, I realized it was something young and true that I had not seen in a long, long time.
His devotion to young coed leaves me hoping (and praying) that she will recognize the great gift he is offering her and love him in return.