Summary: If someone is not like you (let’s say, they’re a different age, or race, or religion), don’t make sweeping statements. While you might (maybe) be right about a few individuals, you will be dead wrong about a whole lot more.
“The children now love luxury. They have bad manners, contempt for authority; they show disrespect for elders and love chatter in place of exercise.”
― often attributed to Socrates
I have recently had the (mis)fortune of hearing, in various contexts, statements which amount to “young people, they’re no good”. I would like to examine my experience more closely. Generally, here’s why I’d like to address this topic:
- I generally fall within the age that they consider “young”,
- AND their statement is incorrect regarding me and most (if not all) of the people I know who are my age or close to it,
- THEREFORE their statement, while (maybe) right about a few individuals, is FALSE,
- ADDITIONALLY (as seen at the head of the article) people who are no longer the youngest generation have been saying similar things for thousands of years, literally,
- AND since they are in many cases stating it in my presence or even directly to me, this is rude and offensive.
While we as a culture seem to have figured this out about some categories, at least when we are talking in public, we fail woefully in other areas. And I have noticed that age discrimination or ageism is ridiculously rampant… and is extremely frustrating.
To approach this issue logically, let me start by defining a few terms
- Child: someone under the age of, let’s say, 15
- Teen: 15-18. Yes, I know the numbers that end in “-teen” start earlier and end later, but culturally, high school is a dividing line.
- Young adult: 19-35 or so
- Middle aged adult: 36-60 (or so, of course…)
- Older adult: 60 and up
These are not hard and fast definitions. What they do, though, is help you understand what approximate generation I am referring to. If necessary for clarity in a particular instance, I will be more specific. Please note that in the statements I overheard, the people making the statements did not specify an age range that they were targeting with their statement.
I would like to begin by repeating a few of the statements I have heard, and then I will examine them for logical fallacies and factual error. This will place them in a context of fact and clear thinking, which will help demonstrate why broad statements are, at best, not helpful, and, at worst, hurtful or harmful.
Note: I cannot guarantee that the wording of these statements is exactly what was said to or around me. I am filtering it through my memory, which means I might unconsciously be remembering them in a particular way (“personal bias”).
- Young people lack conviction. They are unable to stand behind their beliefs. They will start a civil war. (Speaker: mid 60’s. Upon being pressed, the speaker seemed to consider people below about 40 to be “young”.)
- Young people don’t learn anything. They aren’t held accountable. Children are not learning useful skills. (The speakers in this conversation were approximately in their 40s. They seemed to refer to younger adults then they are, at first, and then drift into what is being taught in schools.)
- Young people don’t have a religion. They don’t go to church. They don’t know what to do in church. They don’t know the Lord’s Prayer. They don’t know God and how God takes care of you. (Speaker: mid 80’s.)
Young people lack conviction. They are unable to stand behind their beliefs. They will start a civil war.
There are a few logical fallacies in this one. If young people lack convictions in the first place, then they have no beliefs to be wishy-washy about. So if the first sentence is true, the second is false. Or, if the second one is true, the first one is false. In either case, if they have no beliefs or if they are just wishy-washy about them, then they would not have the wherewithal to actually stage a civil war. If sentence two is true, they might manage a riot… So if sentence three is true, one and two are false.
As to the facts of the statement: I know some wonderful women in their 20s who are very opinionated about social justice. They not only 1) have an opinion/belief/conviction, they 2) speak out about their beliefs and explain them kindly to others, and 3) have jobs that enable them to act on their beliefs (one of them is a social worker).
Since the older adult who made this statement to me did not specify otherwise, her statement applies to all “young people”, and by providing the above example (and, I hope, being an example myself), I have at least shown that her statements do not apply to ALL “young people”.
I would posit that there are many young adults who have very strong beliefs and stand behind them. Whether or not this will result in a war, I hesitate to opine. I would like to believe that many young adults have strong opinions that would lead them away from that possibility.
Young people don’t learn anything. They aren’t held accountable. Children are not learning useful skills.
This was overheard in a post office, and initially the person making the statement was referring to her own coworkers, who, as far as I have seen, all fall squarely into the middle aged adult category. She was annoyed that something had been incorrectly alphabetized. So despite the tone of her statement and, if I remember correctly, the wording, she is actually referring to herself, since she falls into the same age category as those who should have sorted the mail. And yet, the alphabetization was something she clearly thought she could do. So if the first sentence is not about young adults, teens, or children, but she actually meant middle aged adults, she proved her own statement false by being her own counter-example. If she actually meant it to apply to “young people”, then she made her own statement non-applicable by the mere fact that no “young people” were actually involved in the issue she was complaining about.
Sentence two was where the conversation between her and the customer at the counter drifted into even more murky territory about what age they were discussing. Did she mean that the Postal System should find the person who committed a minor clerical error and reprimand them fiercely? The implication was that the guilt was on the children in school, which seems to be a logical error too, since if they aren’t being held accountable, it would be her own generation, the middle aged adults, who are the ones not enforcing their own standards.
The third sentence was regarding cursive being taught in schools. Their primary argument was that you need to know cursive to be able to sign your name. This is false because 1) you can print your name and it will be a valid signature, as long as you do it approximately the same way each time, and 2) it is legal to sign with an x.
In fact, let’s talk about that: Did you know that adult literacy is lower than you would expect? There are a HUGE number of illiterate adults. And I don’t just mean that they haven’t gotten a classical education and haven’t read the right books. I mean that they truly cannot read or write, or can only do so at a very low level (Department of Education report). We’re talking at least 20% of the population in America. If you took the whole U.S. and mixed us up and pulled out 10 people randomly, two of them can barely read and write. And another one or two would still struggle some. Interestingly, according to a U.S. Department of Education survey analysis, “Older adults were more likely than middle-aged and younger adults to demonstrate limited literacy skills.” They attribute this to a likely lower number of years of schooling.
So if lack of literacy affects older adults more, and signing with an x or with non-connected letters counts as a signature, the argument for learning cursive as a child is null and void. Additionally, the generation choosing the curriculum is primarily middle aged adults and older adults. Blaming the younger generations seems to not be applicable here.
Young people don’t have a religion. They don’t go to church. They don’t know what to do in church. They don’t know the Lord’s Prayer.
Sentence one and two are not completely false. She is correct that church attendance is not exactly high amongst young adults, and that, when surveyed, many do not profess belief in a particular religion. But it is not true to say that they “don’t”, so sentence one and two are FALSE regarding ALL young adults. Some do have affiliation with a particular religion and do still attend the worship meetings of that religion.
So sentence two is a little bit limited in scope: it is possible to have religion or adhere to a religion and not attend church (a designation for Christian worship meetings).
Sentence three is where this statement begins to contradict itself. Since sentence two says they don’t go, so how do you know if they know what to do or not? But if they ARE showing up, which is how you would be able to identify the situation in sentence three, then sentence two is proven wrong. Plus, sentence three means you have a great opportunity to introduce them to the religion and traditions you seem to feel they are lacking, rendering sentence one false or at least tenuous.
Sentence four: this is false, as I know many who do. While it is true that not as many young adults are familiar with the traditions the older adults grew up with, and maybe even particular items within that tradition like the Lord’s Prayer, that does not mean that ALL young adults have issues with these things. Again, I’m going to use myself as a counterexample here. There are still parents who raised their children within a particular religious tradition, and those children have grown into young adults who know the traditions, even if they no longer attend or feel an affiliation to that tradition
This entire statement completely ignores other religions as valid options. That is unfair. Sentence one says that young people have no religion but the further sentences make it clear that only Christianity is valid. However, there are some young people that DO have religion (making sentence one false) even if it’s not Christianity. This does not get addressed by the rest of the sentences, rendering them inapplicable after her first sentence.
You may have noticed a few things as I tried to logically dissect the statements:
- I have an opinion that not all young people (however you define that) have the flaws the speaker lists. A few do, but not ALL. And when I don’t have those flaws, I feel like their statement is a personal affront to me. So when I wrote this, yes, I was a little bit upset that there are some older individuals who seem to think that everyone my age is horrible. I wonder what older adults though of THEM when THEY were young? (Again, Socrates. Seriously. Every generation thinks the next one fails at life. Yet we go on. Take a deep breath – we’ll be fine, we’ll grow up, and we’ll complain about the next generation just as loudly as you do about us).
- Is it true that ALL people who are in their 70s are all the same in any way? No. Were they all alike when they were young? NO. So why would anyone expect ANY demographic of any type to be all identical?
- I am a Christian. I have specific ideas of what that means. But one of the things I feel strongly about is that you should be kind and considerate. Making sweeping statements about a particular demographic, when a representative of that demographic is in the room but does not fulfill your statement, is neither kind nor considerate, nor in any way open minded.
- All of the speakers I heard were female. Yes, I said “her” in every single one of my rebuttals above. But I think that has more to do with the fact that I am female, and I tend to be around other females, as well as the fact that I have hobbies that are often done by retired females, so many of the groups I end up in primarily feature that demographic.
- Please understand that I have no issue with people older than I am. In fact, most of my friends are older! What I take issue with is that these particular people were making broad generalizations. And these broad generalizations are false, contradictory, and offensive.
Ok, a few quick requests:
If you comment, please think carefully before you submit.
Please be kind and respectful.
Please, no sweeping statements.
AND PLEASE, NO POLITICS.
Thank you for listening.
Sarah (young, opinionated, religious, literate, and verbal about it!)