To be young means to undertake to demolish the world and to have the gall to wish to erect a new and better one in its place.
– Nikos Kazantzakis
Sadly, a lot of young people today have no image of youth except drunkenness. They grew up in an advertising-based culture that uses youth as a sales tool, and has dragged it down to the level of the lowest manipulable denominator.
Young people these days are trained in status quo conformity, and express their youth primarily in drunken or drugged parties of some sort. They have no image of what youth should actually be.
The Nikos Kazantzakis quote above is an explanation of what youth once was and will be again: a time of open eyes and fresh dreams. This kind of youth is no servant of the status quo and does not move like an old man, treading the safe, approved paths because he’s too tired and frail to forge new ones.
Youth is built for forging new paths. We may not have much depth of knowledge when we are young, but honesty is always available to us, and the price we’ll pay for leaving the approved path is lower than it would be for the old man who left the path. (The old man should leave the path anyway, but that’s a separate story.)
My point here is this: Most young people today have never really been young. They have toed the line of the status quo, only leaving it for accepted debaucheries like booze and sleeping around.
To such rebellions as these, I give a bored, “Ho hum.” Humans have been drinking and screwing as far back as we can see. Those are the stalest stories in the book.
Youth is a time to be alive, to innovate, to try new paths. Here’s another passage, from Kazantzakis’ Zorba the Greek:
“No, you’re not free,” he said. “The string you’re tied to is perhaps no longer than other people’s. That’s all. You’re on a long piece of string, boss; you come and go, and think you’re free, but you never cut the string in two. And when people don’t cut that string…”
“I’ll cut it some day!” I said defiantly, because Zorba’s words had touched an open wound in me and hurt.
“It’s difficult, boss, very difficult. You need a touch of folly to do that; folly, d’you see? You have to risk everything! But you’ve got such a strong head, it’ll always get the better of you… The head’s a careful little shopkeeper; it never risks all it has, always keeps something in reserve. It never breaks the string.”
And this kind of message doesn’t just come from novelists like Kazantzakis. Here’s what Aristotle said in his Nicomachean Ethics:
We should as far as possible immortalize ourselves and do all we can to live according to the best element within us – for if it is small in bulk, it is far greater than anything else in power and worth.
Doesn’t seem to me like the great philosopher was a fan of being obedient little boys and girls and bowing down to the status quo.
Here’s one from an unappreciated philosopher, Bruce Lee:
The meaning of life is that it is to be lived, and it is not to be traded and conceptualized and squeezed into a pattern of systems.
Not every young person has squeezed their youth into a pattern of systems and petty rebellions, of course. But none of them should do that, and many do.
Life is for expression, not for conformity. And if people don’t get over that hump in youth, they may never get over it.
I leave you with one more line from Kazantzakis:
Every man has his folly, but the greatest folly of all… is not to have one.