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Correspondence: Making the most of the International Year of Youth
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Correspondence: Making the most of the International Year of Youth

By Samantha Khan

One of the most brilliant literary minds, Oscar Wilde, once wrote, “The old-fashioned respect for the young is fast dying out.” Although written in 1895 it perhaps holds more truth today than it did then.

The United Nations has declared 12 August 2010 to 12 August 2011 “International Year of Youth” in the hope of bridging the ever-widening gap between young and old. The theme is, fittingly, “Dialogue and Mutual Understanding”.

Valiant though it is, this effort may not be enough. The simple truth of the matter is that we young people are dismissed and undermined in our everyday lives, and this is not something that can be easily changed.

To all the young adults out there: how many times have you been accused of causing trouble or been shot a dismissive glance by your older counterparts before you’ve even lifted a finger or uttered one word? I myself have had one too many of those experiences.

One particular incident springs to mind. Picture this. I’m walking through a store with my mother and notice that part of a fan is somehow upside down. Out of compassion for the poor fan, I decide to be a Good Samaritan and fix it. The store clerk walks over to me wearing a smirk of superiority and I casually explain that the thing was upside-down. She proceeds to spin it back (the wrong way) and insist that it wasn’t.

As I was just about to politely (I promise) point out that the numbers were, in fact, the wrong way, my mother steps in and she barely has to finish her sentence before the store clerk realises the mistake. She fixes it and walks away- no apology, nothing.

Truth be told, I had grown too accustomed to these things to be very bothered. Instead, I was amused. To me, it felt like silent victory. Here I was, carefree and enjoying life, not at all affected by a bit of narrow-mindedness. And there was the store clerk, possibly – hopefully – regretting her quick and, might I add, false judgement.

But then I started to think.

Why are we prejudged and underestimated in the first place? Because, like it or not, most of us are in fact troublemakers. We’re a bunch of rebels and mischief-makers and ditzy daydreamers.

But that’s the beauty of being young. We have so much energy and nowhere to put it, since much of society at ground level won’t listen to us. Thus, we go looking for adventure.

We run in the shopping malls, skip to our classes, have impromptu sing-a-longs and just laugh for no real reason. We think we’re invincible. And it’s those same rebels and pranksters with their heads in the clouds that become the revolutionists, innovators and thinkers of tomorrow once given the chance.

While some of the people in power understand the value of the youth, the reality is that too much of society does not respect us. Whether we want to face it or not, some of the blame for our negative reputation lies with us.

A large section of young people plummet down a path of alcohol, drugs, sex and violence. They waste the vitality of their young minds and, while some learn to moderate and prioritise, and come out stronger, others are not so fortunate.

Why does this happen? Perhaps a lack of guidance, lack of support and affection. Perhaps they never even realised there were other options.

All in all, we young people possess a rare balance between the innocence of childhood and the maturity of adulthood. We are daring enough to believe that anything is possible but are wise enough to know those things should not be attempted. We are old enough to see the glaring flaws of the world and innocent enough to think we can change it. We have not yet been fazed or dazed by life as have so many adults, and so are able to see things in a different light – a light that, in my view, might help clear out some of the darkness that has engulfed our planet.

In the end, the point is not that young people are better. After all, we will eventually grow old (yes, yes I know, a little harsh… sorry).  It is about equal input for all, the demolition of stereotypes, and respect for all individuals regardless of age, race or any other lovely labels we humans like to create. (I should take this opportunity to point out that if we expect respect from the other generations, we need to show them respect as well).

We can’t wait for the stereotype to be broken on its own though, we, as the youth, need to don our armour, take up our light-sabres and plastic swords and go shatter the image ourselves.

Be proactive. Take a stand. Do something when you can. And if you can’t do something, then say something.

Make the best of International Year of Youth. They dedicated a whole year to us, we can’t let the opportunity to have our voices heard slip away.

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