By Parker Smith '21
Throughout my life, out of all the different traits I could like about myself, I have always taken the most pride in my generation. No matter where I lived, be it here in Huntsville or in Gig Harbor, Washington my peers all shared a common thread. A certain spark inside of us that has revolution-starting potential. Like most of you watching, I am a part of Gen Z.
We are characterized as the generation whose behavior possesses virtually no grey area. We can protest like no tomorrow but become a shrinking violet when it comes to asking a waiter for a refill. One minute we’re making statements against oppression and bigotry, the next we are laughing at the first random, fatalistic, or nonsensical meme that pops up on our dashboards. I clearly remember one instance where some friends and I were debating with each other about abortion laws. As the conversation died out, I opened my computer to see a Pinterest post with the phrase, “Meenage tutant neetle teetles.” I laughed for about five straight minutes.
"I think that one of the big issues we have is that while different generations can be good at listening to each other, we aren’t so good at hearing one another."
It was like the meme had pulled a cork out of the bottle I had been pressing my emotions into for the entire previous conversation, because of course no one is going to be lighthearted on the topic of abortion. It was a release of stress, and as pop culture and memes have developed along with how the media has been increasingly depressing and stressful this past year, the strangest things can make us laugh. Other examples of this would be a personal favorite of mine, which is a ”Mr. Sandman” meme crossed with the urban legend of the Hookman. “Mister Sandman, man me a sand, make him the cutest man car door hook hand.” It was just an old Tumblr post, a text box that starts out with the normal lyrics to the song and ends in a funny way. The punchline, or rather, the part that makes you laugh, is when the text box doesn’t turn out to be what you thought it would be. It’s like a more harmless, yet dark version of shock humor where the shock just comes from the unexpected silliness that arises from the sleep deprived brains of today’s young adults and teenagers. I would give more examples, but just thinking of the phrases that come with them make me laugh, so for the sake of time I will stop there.
I believe that there is a clear divide between the way each generation perceives the world around them, because historical events, trends, and advances in technology certainly shape our individual perspective of the world. I think that one of the big issues we have is that while different generations can be good at listening to each other, we aren’t so good at hearing one another. Dismissal is all too common, and we all have our own issues that need acceptance. Sometimes, because we are younger, showing passion for change can be dismissed as being “too fragile” or being a dreaded online “Social Justice Warrior.” What the previous generations have forgotten is that at our age, they were also introduced to issues on the global stage. Time has numbed them to the newness of current issues. Because we are young, we cannot be seen as wise, or experienced, in anything.
When I was fifteen, I moved from Washington state to Huntsville. Of course, I had known we were moving, but what was important to me was when we were moving. The day I arrived home from sleepaway camp, I found my house as bare-boned as it had been when we moved in. That’s when I learned we were leaving in three hours. I was told to shower, grab my stuff, and get in the car. What happened next was a four day trip with everyone (minus the dog) in the smaller of our two cars, driving upwards of nine hours a day just to get to Alabama before school started for me and my brother. When I heard I would have to move once again, I told my parents I was feeling bitter. I was told that I was too young to feel bitterness, and I was just being dramatic. Yes, there are absolutely zero reasons or ways that I could ever have the capacity to be bitter, especially in this world where we will grow up and be tasked with fixing the mess left in the wake of corrupt politicians. Of course, I’m being sarcastic. Being told I was too young for bitterness felt like my emotions were being hushed and shut out because they were an inconvenience. I felt like I wasn’t being listened to, which seems to be a common trend among people our age. There are two sides to this road though. Hypocrisy runs rampant in our society, with one group claiming the other doesn’t listen, while simultaneously not listening themselves.
"Basic human decency should be something you extend to everyone. A high level of respect should, and does, take work to earn.""
We need to learn to respect each other properly. Some think respect means treating someone as an authority, and others believe it means treating everyone like human beings. In some scenarios, the meaning can go both ways. For example, people in positions of power, like parents or your boss at work, the relationship could be, “If you don’t treat me with authority, I won't treat you like a person,” even without realizing it. Each little quip about respect contradicts another. For example, you always hear “Respect is earned, not given," but also “Respect your elders.” It’s important to give a basic level of respect to everyone until they give you a reason not to. Basic human decency should be something you extend to everyone. A high level of respect should, and does, take work to earn. I think we all need to remember the “golden rule” and set a standard for how we treat each other, no matter who they are. Going back to the debate on abortion I mentioned earlier, one of the participants used the common argument of, “what if the fetus could have potentially cured cancer,” which only added to the already heated discussion that was dominated by liberals. Even though I didn’t agree with their side or their argument, I still gave them respect, because it is their right to believe what they wish as long as it is not affecting others. I gave them the basic level of respect that we should give everyone.
Without respect, our society will not function. We need to learn how to coexist with one another, how to listen and respect everyone on a basic level. If we don’t listen and respect each other, there is no way that we can communicate effectively. Without communication, we cannot peacefully function as a society. We have to change the way we think about respect and strive to apply that new understanding every day. This, I believe, is the only way our society can move forward productively. I am very proud of my generation. I believe we are the key to the future. We just need to make the right moves by respecting everyone on a basic level and validating others.