“Our youth now love luxury. They have bad manners, contempt for authority; they show disrespect for their elders and love chatter in place of exercise; they no longer rise when elders enter the room; they contradict their parents, chatter before company; gobble up their food and tyrannize their teachers.”
Did you guess? Emily Post? Miss Manners? Donald Trump?
I’ll give you a hint. The quote is from someone who died 2413 years ago.
This is what Socrates said about the youth of his day. For some reason I find that hysterically funny.
Yesterday morning, the morning after Thanksgiving at my sister’s house, we were sitting around the kitchen table, extended to accommodate the extra family members. As tends to happen at family gatherings during holidays and special occasions, the conversation steered towards the state of the American political system (broken), the intelligence of American politicians (or lack there of) and the state of our youth (rude with no attention span). Then I thought of Socrates. And after the discussion of how cell phones have ruined our youth, I used my cell phone to google the quote.
It is oddly comforting to me that people were complaining about the youth of their day over two millennia ago, sounding exactly like something my grandmother might have said. Our breakfast conversation was actually similar to Socrates (that is a lofty claim, I know, but our conversation didn’t get any more philosophical than this derision of young people). I realized that if Socrates was offended by the youth of ancient Greece, maybe the youth of our day isn’t so bad. Maybe they are just being youth and we are just being the grown ups who complain about them gobbling their food without any manners.
Then I remembered the very true (though somewhat slurred) story about the election of 1800 from Drunk History:
When we get down about negative campaigning or smear tactics in today’s politics, it’s good to remember the antics of Thomas Jefferson and John Adams 214 years ago. They were basically behaving like two 8 year-olds throwing mud at each other – each one trying to out-do the other in outlandish and completely untrue negative ads. Thomas Jefferson went to the newspaper and told them John Adams was a hermaphrodite – there are actual printed statements that Adams had both male and female sex organs. John Adams told the media that everyone should vote for him because Jefferson was dead – and even if you disagreed with everything Adams said, at least he was alive!
When I saw this clip, I again had a strange sense of optimism. If this is what our founding fathers were up to over 200 years ago and we are still around and haven’t ruined ourselves with our own stupidity, then maybe we’re doing ok. Maybe, just maybe, we are actually getting better. Even with all the negative attack ads and political spin, at least our candidates aren’t just blatantly making up stuff about each others sex organs.
You see, instead of seeing that we are all doomed because our youth and our politicians have always been deplorable, I see that our youth and our politicians are just being how they have always been and humanity has just had a tendency to complain. That doesn’t make everything horrible. Even if people like to lament about the state of young people, politicians and the weather while sitting around a breakfast table, the world is actually quite a wonderful place.
Maybe our youth aren’t so rude. Maybe we are making progress. Maybe things are actually changing for the better. Maybe we ARE evolving. Maybe there is hope.