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Don’t use age as an excuse to dismiss me

Putting youth down for wanting to make a better world isn’t constructive; it’s a power trip

Adulting_Carolyn Yip
Image Credits: Carolyn Yip

Last week, I was sitting in a French class outside of school. I was by far the youngest in the seven-person group: I stood out from the Yaletown yuppies and the third-agers. We were discussing something about having a better world whilst trying to improve our French-speaking skills.

Everyone was being very negative (a common attitude in today’s political climate). I, being the optimistic millennial I am, went on to explain how I still believe there are actions we as humans could do to help poverty, climate change, and constant war. A comment from one of my yuppie classmates soon followed: “Tu dit ça parce que tu es jeune.” Translation? “You are only saying that because you are young.”

I had no comeback. Growing up, we are shut down with similar variations of those words time after time: ‘You don’t understand,’ ‘you’re too young,’ and so many others. Yet here I was, having thought that at age 22, I’d have finally passed the finish line for ageist discrimination.

I went home wondering what exactly that woman meant. Yes, I’m certainly young, but this woman couldn’t have been more than 33. Did that make her much older than I am? Calling me young was just a way for her to position herself as the powerful one between us. The adult, a concept often linked to and confused with maturity and wisdom.

We see that all around social media, both lightheartedly and seriously: ‘adulting.’  What does that word even mean? Economic and social independence? Taking responsibility for your actions? Getting your life together?

Any of those answers would make some sense. What does not, however, is what this woman’s chosen definition of “becoming an adult” was to lose your ‘naive’ beliefs and to ‘understand’ that you can save neither the world nor the people in it.

Looking back, her comment wasn’t helpful so much as just cynical. I understand there is a thin line between ‘optimistic’ and ‘ridiculous,’ yet I refuse to admit that grasping how the world works and successfully ‘adulting’ simply leads to having a desk job, a good salary, a steady monotonous relationship, a mortgage, and a car.

If being an adult means being a pessimist, or a realist if that’s what you’d prefer to call yourself instead, call Peter Pan and fly me to Neverland, because I never want to be like you.

If it signifies that you’ve branded the world a lost cause, that you’ve accepted it as a ticking time bomb waiting to detonate, call me young as many times as you wish.

These past few days have been proof that youthful hope isn’t powerless. Look at Trump’s attempted immigration ban: a source of revulsion, despair, and wonder at how even in the 21st century, a man can cause such harm to thousands of people.

But despite the hopelessness, we saw hundreds of protests breaking out around US airports, lawyers working pro bono to help those affected by the ban, and solidarity from thousands around the world. The world might be dark and horrible, I’m very aware of that, but there are lightning bolts of action that can make it less gloomy.

I have no clue, and don’t think I can ever really expect to know, what being an adult actually means. However, I do know that if, 10 years from now, I’m sitting in a class telling a 22-year-old that she hasn’t grasped the real world because she still believes she could fulfill some of her dreams, slap me.

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