“Wet behind the ears.” That’s what one comment stated on my very first attempt at writing a political editorial in 2004, just a year out of college. Working for Folsom Life Newspaper at the time, I attempted to write about my excitement of Arnold Schwarzenegger being crowned governor of California. An actor I admired taking a huge leap into the leadership of a state I just moved into — it sounded fantastic.
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I drew sharp criticism for the opinions I expressed in my opinion piece. What did I know, I was told, not asked. I was a kid, I knew nothing; I was “wet behind the ears.” The commenter may have been right, but I’m worried not much has changed in that perception since then.
My generation is consistently criticized for its political views. Whether we’re Republican, Democrat, Christian or atheist, there’s always a fallback the generation before mine leans upon to shrug off anything we have to say: “They’re just too young to understand.”
Sometimes it’s true. Most of us haven’t been to war and back. We haven’t lived through half a century of changes in our country, nor fathered and mothered kids from childhood into adulthood.
But perhaps we’re being disregarded too early. At only 32, I’ve already dealt with my share of adversity. Still in debt with student loans, I’ve been unemployed twice in my professional career thanks to the economy and to no fault of my own, I’m living in a recession, trying to buy a house and raising two children in a world where our national debt is being discussed as the future dooming of our country. I’ve been a voter since I was 18, paid my share of taxes along the way, and am about to help decide who heads up the United States for the next four years.
While our predecessors are fighting to keep their Medicare and Social Security intact, there’s a good chance my generation won’t have either by the time we reach the acceptable age to receive it. We’re having to plan smarter and harder to protect our future and the future of our families, with less and less to do so. Our college degrees mean far less than they did for those before us, as the job market has become a field of land mines we’re all trying to carefully cross.
Like it or not, those of us wet behind the ears will one day have to run this country. The decisions we make as voters and policies we live through as we age will determine the success or failure of the U.S. That’s a big burden to have to shoulder, and yet we’re constantly being criticized instead of embraced on this frightening journey.
At least we’re passionate, albeit far too unorganized. Follow any Facebook newsfeed and you’ll find my generation in heavy debates about the social policies of this country … we’ll “occupy” the streets in protest to fight what we believe is an injustice. While I’m not too proud of that one, it was inspiring to see us finally step away from our computers and try to have our voices heard. Instead of shaking your heads, why not provide us guidance? You are still our leaders, and I’d like to believe the majority of us were still raised to respect our elders enough to listen to their wisdom. And try to remember yourself at this age. Did you ever protest something you felt strongly about? Ever criticize the mentality of your predecessors, thinking you know more than they did? Did you ever, at some point in your younger days, think you knew what the best course of action was for the future? And the best question: Were you right?
Probably not, most of the time. But your heart was in the right place. And so is ours. We just need to learn, just like you did, and we need your help to do so.
“A Dalai Dilly” from Bob Billingsley’s “Heard over the back fence” column in the Sept. 10 Mountain Democrat offered some wise advice: “We, the present generation, have to make a clear picture. We have to make some kind of preparation for a happier, friendly, peaceful next century. So that when my generation is ready to say goodbye, we can hand over to the next fresh, broad-minded generation a more hopeful world; then they can look after it themselves.”
We’re not going to always see eye to eye. And it’s OK to respectfully agree to disagree on some things. But at some point my generation will have to take over. As scary as that may seem, it’s up to the generation before us to lead us in the right direction, and up to us to follow. This is obviously easier said than done, but if my elders hand me a towel, I promise to dry the water soaking my ears.
Patrick Ibarra is managing editor of the Mountain Democrat. His column appears at unscheduled times.