You know, your parents weren’t always like this. They were young once. Hopeful, open-minded, even adventurous. They weren’t always so conservative, so stuck in their ways.
Your grandparents too, they were idealistic once. They were, especially compared to their parents, downright revolutionary. They were the generation that rebuilt the world after the Second World War.
The same goes with your peers. None of them set out to be one of those calculating, unethical parents in the College Admissions scandal (as we’ve talked about). But one day they found themselves ruthlessly scheming to screw over their kid’s classmates to secure their (not so) golden child a spot at USC. And many of them doing so without a second’s thought.
So what happened?
It’s true that life has a way of showing us how things really are; of disabusing us of our naive, simplistic understanding of things. But we have also come to tolerate, or even condone, this process where people harden up as they get older. We just assume that it’s inevitable.
If you’re not a liberal when you’re young, goes the famous expression, then you have no heart. But if you’re not a conservative when you’re old, then you have no brain.
It’s not the political implications of this that matter. It’s the idea that when we have kids and become parents, our compassion, our sense of collective responsibility, our understanding of what’s fair, gets subsumed beneath our needs and our family. It’s the idea that you should only have compassion when you’re young, that you should abandon ideals as you age. As if youthful ideals and adult responsibilities are mutually exclusive, zero sum.
How sad! What a betrayal of all the things that we tell our kids are important in life. What kind of example is this providing? We have to show them that it’s perfectly possible to experience all the heartache and frustration of the world without becoming jaded. We have to show them that you can be pragmatic without being part of the problem.
We have to show them that we mean what we say when it comes to virtues like justice and fairness and responsibility and duty. That we live them—and live up to them—all the time, for our whole lives. They have to see and know and feel that ours are not just principles of convenience. They are not romantic ideals from youth that we get to shunt away when the harsh realities of adulthood make them harder to bear.
Even more importantly, comfort with how things have always been and fear of how things might one day can never be an excuse for moral failing or equivocation. Indeed there is nothing more hopeful or open-minded or adventurous than living by your principles on a changing landscape, and leaning on those principles to help you change with the landscape.