Thursday, March 29, 2018

The Moral Authority To Lead Us

I was in high school in Corvallis, Oregon and then college in Eugene during the early 1980's. Across the mountains near a tiny burg called Antelope, an Indian spiritual leader by the name of Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh bought a ranch for the purpose of building a city, a nirvana, based upon his the principles of meditation, love, celebration, courage, creativity, and humor. Almost immediately, the local population fought against the Rajneeshees, and the Rajneeshees fought back. Things escalated rapidly to bombings, murder, bioterror, assassination attempts, and guns, lots of guns. The media at the time tended to portray the people of Antelope as victims, but there was plenty of blame to go around.

I was aware of the Rajneeshee story at the time, but didn't follow it because, honestly, to this young man it just seemed like a bunch of adults behaving badly, on both sides. It seemed absurd that everyone couldn't just get along. I've recently been reminded of those times by the Netflix documentary series called Wild, Wild Country. Many of the main protagonists from both sides shared their stories, I learned things I didn't know, but in the end I came away with the same feeling I had back then: there were probably "good guys" on both sides, but by and large, it's the story of adults behaving badly.

On Saturday, I headed out to one of Seattle's March for Our Lives rallies, a movement spearheaded by teenagers who are clearly fed up with adults behaving badly. This is the tip of the spear. As a parent of a young adult, I'm hyper-aware that from the perspective of the young people I know, many, if not most, of the problems in our world stem from adults having backed themselves into their respective corners, yelling at each other, and making no sense at all. Many of the "very serious" talking heads have criticized these teens as naive at best, some even accusing them of being pawns of political interests, or worse.

To me they just seem like the young people I know: smart, socially-aware, compassionate, and pissed off about the world they are inheriting. This, of course, is no different than the young people who came before them. Perhaps they are naive, but maybe that's their strength. Maybe that's why young people can, on some issues, be so much more clear-sighted than those of us who allow our knowledge of past failures to make us cynics and, at best, willing to settle for half measures.

I've attended more of these feet-on-the-street actions than I can count, but the march on Saturday felt different. As I heard the voices of young citizen after young citizen take the mic, I found myself feeling inspired by their passion as much as their words. This is not only how it should be, it's how it has always worked. Many of our nation's so-called "founding fathers" were in fact kids in 1776. Among those who were 25 or under were such historical figures as James Madison, Nathan Hale, Aaron Burr, Alexander Hamilton, Betsy Ross, and James Monroe. Many others weren't much older. Indeed, youth have lead the way in virtually every major social change that has ever happened, not just in democracies, but everywhere.

The past is too often a story of adults behaving badly. Real change doesn't happen until we not just listen to the kids, but step aside so that they can take the lead. After all, no one has a greater stake in the future: it is theirs to create. And frankly, we "experienced" adults have behaved rather badly, making a mess of so much, that it's time we gave someone else a chance. Despite their youth, and perhaps because of it, they appear at this moment in history at least, to have not just clearer sight, but the moral authority to lead us.

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