Please excuse the title, which feels at least a little like it could have been the proposed title for a creative writing project for a group of 7-year-olds, but it feels like the best title for the job. It’s not, I know, but it’s my blog and I don’t care. I just wanted to share with you one of the single worst things about being a child (and equally, perhaps more so, a young adult) that I mostly now get to look back on.
That thing – the thing which thankfully gets better with time – is the patronising cynicism of your elders. Over the course of my life, I’ve made a great number of decisions: some of which I’m happy with, and some of which I’m not – that’s the nature and the beauty of life. And, of course, others may approve or disapprove of my decisions. That’s fine too.
The problem comes when people try to use their age to invalidate your independence. How often have you heard a parent or grandparent or teacher imply that a younger person is "just going through a phase," or that, perhaps most critically of all, "they’ll see" when they’re older: the implication being that they will see that they were wrong when they were younger and remember the smug faces of their mentors.
I’ve made a great number of decisions, and, because I’m a rather unusual individual, some of these have been unusual decisions. Not all of my plans have unfolded as I’d expected, and many of my ideas have changed, but some haven’t. I’d love to be able to more clearly remember every single person who implied that by now I’d have changed my mind, and slowly and calmly explain what belittling twats they were. Of course, it doesn’t take too great an age before you start forgetting things like that, and it’s all a bit theoretical… but I’d love to be able to better announce, "Yes, I’m still me: surprised?"
My single favourite example – because it’s trivial, "tame," and easy to debate, as well as being a genuinely good example – is my decision not to marry, which will come up again in a blog entry in the near future, I suspect. Allow me to elaborate:
This decision is based on a great many things: that it provides me with no benefits I don’t seem to be able to achieve by better means, that it has societal implications that I disagree with, and that I feel that whatever benefits it could conceivably get me would be given to me in an example of unfair positive disrcimination, which I object to. Plus a million others (if you’re looking to debate the point with me, catch me in person or wait until a blog post more specifically on the subject). Now this isn’t a new revelation for me: I’ve been sticking to my guns on this point for about a decade now, and I’m not showing any signs of changing my stance… I have no objection to people disagreeing with me: in fact, when I hold an off-the-beaten-track viewpoint like this one, I ought to expect it. But as a young adult, the number of times I was told that "I’d grow out of that," "I’d change my mind someday," or, worst of all, "I’d fall in love with somebody, then I’d see," – like there’s some kind of magical link between love and marriage that appears in your mind exactly ten years after your balls drop – goes beyond my ability to recount.
Why do people do this? Statistically speaking, adults who say these things are usually right: they’re speaking from experience, albeit their own experience, and they’re not stupid. But that’s not an excuse to tell anybody, and especially a child, that their feelings are invalid or somehow wrong because they will probably be changed by time. Those younger than you may lack experience, but that doesn’t make their opinions wrong – just different.
I got lucky. My parents were always brilliant at nurturing and helping me through anything I felt was right… even the decisions which in hindsight make me cringe or were blatantly just anti-conformism for anti-conformism’s sake (and the huge area of crossover between the two). I’ve spoken to many, many people who had a far more upsetting experience in this area than I did, and even those whose growth as an individual, I expect, was crippled by the blind criticism of their parents.
The best thing about being my age is that almost nobody tries to tell me I’m wrong in my opinions based on their age and experience, under the implication that I will in time see my mistake. The exception, of course, is the devoutly religious, who still insist that "after death" I’ll understand that they were right.