Only the old

Screenshot from "Scenes from the Suburbs"
Screenshot from “Scenes from the Suburbs”

The youth are too quickly dismissed

By Natalie Serafini, Opinions Editor

Most of you reading this are likely students, and many of you, especially if you’re in the spring of your lifetime, may agree that youths often lack authority. Or rather, youths are perceived to be lacking in authority, expertise, and knowledge, so that others dismiss their opinions and statements with, “You’re so young, what do you know?” or “You’ll change your mind when you’re older.”

As one who comfortably fits the title of “young” and likes to share her opinions regardless of the audience’s willingness, this is more than a little frustrating—and not for the petty reasons one might expect. I’m in a position to think my opinions are sound and solid, but having my judgments judged in no way offends me. Instead, what frustrates is the ease with which these verdicts are belittled on the basis of my age, rather than on the actual legitimacy of my arguments. I’m going to be considered young for a few more years, so I’d like to dismiss the weight of these rejections, if only because I can’t wait five years to be taken seriously.

These suggestions that a young person’s opinions can and perhaps should be ignored imply that with age necessarily comes wisdom. Of course that’s the understanding—that possessors of greying temples know how the world works in a way that is bested only by those who have achieved nirvana—but it’s not actually the case. I need only think of the mess the world tends to be, and to consider the ages of those who are generally in positions of power to think that, while they do the best they can, the senior set don’t have a roadmap understanding of society and the world at large.

From the statement “You’ll change your mind when you’re older” comes the implication that all senior cardholders think the same way. If we change our minds when we’re older, and change them predictably enough that the speaker knows we’ll eventually mould to their way of thinking, then assumedly the majority of older people have similar beliefs. Granted, youth tend towards liberal views, and older people towards more conservative views, but this isn’t true of all young people or all old people. Maybe the youth aren’t destined to morph into conservative butterflies as the years go on, but are a product of changing, more liberal times. It’s impossible to predict whether or not someone’s opinions will change, and even more so to predict how they’ll change.

Being told that your beliefs and opinions are limited by youth isn’t just insulting for the heavy tones of condescension—all it’s missing is a pat on the head and a “Nice try, kiddo.” It’s also insulting because it assumes that youth latch onto trendy opinions without thought. Then, it dismisses the opinion, not necessarily because of flaws in the argument, but because the arguer is too young. If I’m wrong I’m wrong, and if my argument is faulty then it’s faulty. I’m always willing to listen to a counter argument and decide whether it prompts me to change my mind. I can’t do anything about my age. I’m getting older by the minute, but by minute degrees.

While “You’re young, what do you know?” attempts to parade supposed wisdom, it’s a cop out. It’s an attempt to sidestep a discussion and presume supremacy without actually demonstrating supremacy. It’s not much better than responding to a child’s question (“Why is the sky blue?”) with “Well, it’s very complicated, I don’t think you’d understand.”

It’s my job to be opinionated, and it’s my job to give those opinions some thought. I’ll be the first to say I’m not always right, as hard as I do try, but that’s not the issue here. The issue is that I’m not always, by default, wrong because I’m young. While I certainly hope I’ll mature beyond the 19-year old that I am now, it’s not like I’m starting from zero. I refuse to be dismissed because of the assumption that young people don’t know anything.