Today’s article is entitled “Sam Spade at Starbucks.” It is an opinion piece published in the New York Times, written by David Brooks and can be found here: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/04/13/opinion/brooks-sam-spade-at-starbucks.html?src=me&ref=general
In the article, the author appears to question the idealism of youth and suggests that young people who are imbued with this idealism should be more practical and realistic. As a 40 year old who has yet to grow completely out of this youthful idealism, while I see where Mr. Brooks is going with his hypothesis, I also have to question the need for young people to proactively seek out opportunities to be more practical.
When I think back to when I started doing public policy work, I remember feeling extremely frustrated that people placed such limitations on what they would allow me to do. I felt like I had so much to offer, but it seemed that people were unwilling to listen to my ideas because of my age. I was bursting with energy and passion and ideas, some of which were lofty goals, but some of which were absolutely achievable. But it was hard to find adults who were willing to give me a chance to contribute in a meaningful way.
When I did finally find a mentor who encouraged me to aim high and go after what I believed was right, I did just that. I remember, perhaps naively, believing that I could almost single-handedly pass legislation to give battered immigrant women in Texas access to public benefits like Medicaid and cash assistance before they had been in the country for five years. Federal law bars most immigrants from accessing these benefits for their first five years in the United States, but states can choose to create exceptions to this law. That is what I intended to do – in Texas.
I think I still have a copy of that draft legislation, with mark-ups from people who I worked with to try and get the bill passed; in the end, the bill failed by one vote. I have often thought that I should frame that draft legislation and hang it next to my desk as a reminder of what I once believed was possible.
For good or ill, my sights at the state legislature have been recalibrated to a much more achievable level than they were then. But sometimes I mourn the loss of the belief that anything could be done if you tried hard enough. Besides, history has repeatedly shown us that true social change only comes about when someone is willing to believe that change is possible.
Life experience forces all of us to become more pragmatic as we get older. We are faced with harsh realities that remind us that everything does not always work out for the best and that some people do have bad intentions. But do young people really need to go out and seek that type of education, or is that simply the education that comes with age and experience? Doesn’t that education come to us all eventually anyway?
I think of the idealism of youth as a precious resource that we can only benefit from nurturing and encouraging. Who knows – the young person who one person dismisses as too young to know anything could turn out to be the next great leader or inventor?
As usual, this article raises some interesting questions for me: Doesn’t this article really just portray the natural tensions between generations that happens periodically as one generation ages and another prepares to enter adulthood? How does this idealism that David Brooks refers to differ from the activism of people from my parent’s generation in the 60’s and 70’s? Are we living a in a different time that enables young people to look outside their borders more for their activism rather than within the United States? Are young people disconnected from local political issues? The last presidential election certainly questioned this assumption. Do you think that young people will be as energized in November and will make their way to the polls?
What is it that makes older people so afraid of the idealism of youth or of acknowledging what young people are capable of?
Do people have to lose their idealism as they age or are there strategies and tactics to keep those dreams and values and philosophies alive? Doesn’t society benefit from young people pushing and encouraging their elders to think about things in a new way? Doesn’t being faced with young idealism help people reconnect to their own youth in some way? Or is David Brooks right that young people just need to be more practical?
What do you think? I’d love to hear your thoughts. Thanks for reading!