Late last May, I sat in a historic theater hosting the high school graduation of the class of 2011. The class president, who happened to be one of my closest friends a few years my junior, came up to speak and offered to his classmates a reflection on the typical topic of many graduation speeches: changing the world. Unlike many of those who stood at a podium in similar circumstances, he called into question the idealism of the youth, the fuel of so many lofty post-high school ambitions.
Why does this seem to diminish as years pass? Is naivety to blame for its existence or does culture unnecessarily and unfortunately demoralize us to the point where we abandon our dreams?
I remember my senior year of high school as probably the greatest year of my life so far. I was doing well academically, I qualified for state’s in cross country, my social life was great and I was winning a lot at life. I was ready to take college by storm. I would easily take a spot on the honor roll, graduate with a top-notch degree and have the intellectual and professional power to change the world in some way.
I’m sure many of us felt this way: like we were on top of the world, invincible and capable of anything. For some, it might also be the case that these sentiments have changed since our time in college began. The real world closes in on us fast and hard. It is merciless and has little tolerance for idealism without action. The hopeful goals of many are crushed by the pressure to produce from an idea, not just come up with an intangible concept.
Today, the deeds and culture of generations past are both revered and ridiculed. In our parents’ and grandparents’ youth, racial segregation was commonplace and socially acceptable. Women were almost always limited to becoming homemakers. Every generation has made mistakes.
In our rebellious adolescence and early adulthood, we defy our parents. As many people grow old, they get senile and stubborn. Their close-mindedness and lack of adaptation to present conditions, trends and devices is frustrating to us. They seem stuck in a past way of living. Perhaps they still believe in what we view as problems of their generation.
It’s easy to defiantly say with certainty, “I will never become like that! I’ll continue to examine cultural changes and suitably adopt or reject them.”
But, are we destined to become just like our elders? Is it a natural human tendency to revert to the ideals to which we grew up in accordance?
Proverbs 20:29 says, “The glory of youths is their strength, but the beauty of the aged is their gray hair.” As vital youths perhaps we are naive. Our strength makes us feel as if nothing can stop us and anything is possible. As we age and grow weaker but more wise, we might come to peace with our mortality. Adhering to ingrained tendencies might be a subconscious effort to hang on to our youth. Or, possibly we lose the energy to make efforts to constantly revise our ways of life.
The lifestyles and philosophies of some people and religions follow the creed of going with the flow. While I find this to be beneficial when unfavorable circumstances unexpectedly arise, I can’t help but see a better way of living that makes one less a subject of the world. As William Ernest Henley worded it, “I am the master of my fate: I am the captain of my soul.”
Those who remain physically active throughout their life are able to maintain their health, vitality and strength for much longer than those who do not. This seems obvious. Yet, when it comes to our ideological condition, too easily do we seem to just let things happen. If continuous efforts are made to perpetuate our mental and ideological adaptability, then we might not dwindle to the intolerable old people that scare children.
Likewise, the idealistic mindset we have in our youth can be retained if we not only have ideas but act on them. When we get to the real world, the relationship dynamic between us and our ideas changes a lot. The elated feeling we get when we have a brilliant idea will increase exponentially when we see it come to fruition.
Do not allow your strength and adaptability of body and mind to diminish with age, but keep it alive and live your idealistic dreams! If you don’t, all you have to lose is yourself.