It is something that we are all guilty of: dismissing the opinions and views of those younger than us. Whether we are eighteen or eighty, we are forever scornful of those with fewer years of experience, forever patronising and condescending, even (or perhaps especially) towards our younger selves. The young are seen as ignorant, foolishly optimistic, not fully comprehending or appreciating the merit of the traditional values of our elders.
In some ways, this view may be fair: we have not had so much time to learn, to live, to have our hearts broken and discover how they might be healed. We are not so wise to romantic love or tax applications or anti-wrinkle cream; we haven’t experienced first hand the constant threat of Soviet bombs, or Spam, or the rise of television.
But this doesn’t mean that our opinions are invalid, that our voices are but noise, chattering oversimplifications and baseless fantasies. Our opinions are not axiomatically unattainable idealisms, simply because we dispute some outdated norms. The reason for the widespread irreligion of English teenagers is not a callous rebellion against our elders and wisers, or something that we will grow out of with experience; it is based on a critical look at the facts available, and an ability to see with clarity that some conclusions would simply be illogical to draw.
When I preach gay rights, I do so not from a standpoint of political correctness or hippyish sentimentality, but because it honestly disgusts me that supposedly civilised adult members of society feel that they are entitled to deny others of rights that they themselves take for granted. I don’t think that creationism, and holocaust or global-warming denial, are ridiculous because I have been taught to think so. I have judged them to be ridiculous, as well as damaging, myself through an assessment of facts and evidence, and that anyone might deny facts and evidence to further their political standpoint, or be brainwashed to do so by religious or cultural pressure, is appalling to me.
The voting age in this country is eighteen, and I believe this to be fair. Not everyone my age has sufficient interest in or knowledge of the issues and process involved in politics to make informed decisions in our democracy, and whilst this is also true of many adults, I am happy to wait until I am eighteen. But this does not mean that we should dismiss the opinions of the young purely because of their youth, or revere those of the old because of their age. And the fact that something worked well enough before just not justify its continuation. Just because a certain manner of doing things has not led to universal destruction does not mean that it cannot be improved, and indeed our society must continually be improved, through a critical assessment of what is fact, what is opinion, and the reasons for and validity of said opinions.
The younger generation has been raised in a far more tolerant and freethinking society than that of older generations. We are encouraged to consider every opinion we hold, to decide why we hold it and whether it is valid. We are taught to, at least in theory, respect other peoples’ religious views, sexuality, opinions on current affairs; to question any stigma we place on a subject or group of people, decide for ourselves if it is justified. We may be less experienced, and we may be supporting things that the older generation would instinctively label immoral or impractical, but many of us are truly thinking about things, considering issues and imagining other people complexly, and our views should not be discredited.
We must judge the merit of a view not on whom it is held by, but by the sensibility and worth of the opinion itself. Age may lead to experience, but not necessarily to wisdom.