Step, Hop and Jump
Behavior of the youth world over, increasingly getting weird, begs explanation. For the political leaders of the West, where the problem is most acute, the reasons are simple. Timothy McVeigh, who killed 300 Federal Government employees with a single blast, and remained to the end as stubbornly remorseless as the pilot who dropped the atom bomb on Japan, was mentally demented. (The pilot was not). Two boys, not even teens, who fired on their schoolmates and killed a dozen were simply acting strange for their age. The 15 year old Charles Bishop who slammed his aircraft into a 46-story Florida building was merely a misguided youth. (He was not protesting). What about the youths taking to drugs? Leisure and boredom are the causes. And sex-orgies? Well, they are on the heat. They will be alright. Such in sum and substance are the explanations that political leaders offer. And it is important to know their minds. For they are all in all. In voters’ assumption they combine in themselves the best of knowledge, wisdom and statesmanship of the past and present. They are the modern day equivalents of pagan deities. Their wisdom, their actions, their explanations are unquestionable. (If a journalist did, he will miss the ticket into the press-conference room next time).
Obviously, if such are the explanations, and accepted by the people as satisfactory, then we might leave the deities and their worshippers to their fate and independently look into the phenomenon to see if we can arrive at some understanding.
We all know that humans undergo changes from embryo to death. Categorization of these changes into a few broad, distinguishable ones would have been successfully done by Adam’s sons: the well-known childhood, youth, middle age, and old age phases. But his progeny hasn’t still been able to mark their precise boundaries. That is because the changes are so minute and so gradual as to be imperceptible and indescribable. Indeed, the changes are so stealthy that a person hardly gets used to his self-assessed newest idea about himself, that he learns from others that it is time he revised it.
However, there is one change that is strikingly distinguishable from all others and, therefore, perceptible to every eye. In its wake it brings massive alterations to body, mind, and behavior. Its onset can be at anytime between 15 or 16 years of age (for males). The heat and the peak last for some five years. But it is the first one or two years that are truly the most remarkable, stormy, and difficult. It is the time when a boy does his “step, hop and jump” into manhood.
In a matter of days, a young man enters into a completely new, challenging, strange, puzzling, though for some weird, world. He is thrilled by his body changes, with the toughening muscles, with the sensuous dreams, with the mysterious nocturnal happenings. His mind bursts forth into new, fascinating, exciting realms. Earlier, he knew the routes, the faces, the sexes, the milieu. But that was largely the knowledge of the animals: instinctive. Now he knows, recognizes and is conscious of the knowledge. Earlier he was inquisitive to know. Now he is inquisitive of the truth behind what he knows. Earlier he knew others were aware of him. But now he believes he is being observed, watched, and is under scrutiny. When he sits in a group, he thinks he stands out as the most prominent. Self-awareness, and therefore, self-scrutiny is at its peak. Am I right? Did I say the right thing? What did those looks mean?
Every sinew in his body is exploding with energy. He feels strong, wild, vibrant, excitable, adventurous, energetic, restless, fidgety, rebellious, reckless, and critical of older people, older fashion, older ways of expression – anything in fact, older than five years. In this phase – life’s spring season – when everything is fresh, fragrant, and romantic, everything that is mundane, usual, and ordinary, has for him no attraction and lends no satisfaction. In contrast, if it is stale, or worse, stinks – to his soul – then it is intensely hateful. Further, he has suddenly become aware of the immense powers he is endowed with, and, consequently, is impatient to use them. Show him the direction, give him a goal, convincing enough, and see his dynamism at work.
Fresh into the world of the older generation, for the first time the youth is a keen observer of things and events around him. His mind is unmolded, untrained, unprejudiced. It is pristinely fresh and altogether without the ideas of the world of the elders. It is blank and ready to go along – all the way – with what his innate nature tells him as just, true and right. He left behind his childish state, entered into a new state, a new phase, a new realm, but he has carried with him the pure, uncorrupted nature on which he was created. What does he see?
It is worthwhile to determine what he sees. For, apart from sudden outburst of energy, this is one of the causes of his weird behavior. It also determines what he will be in his future years.
What he saw in earlier times, a few generations ago, was dramatically different from what he sees now. Then he entered into a familiar world, natural faces, inartificial surroundings, caring people, loving parents, trustworthy friends, kind priests and virgin girls. His transition from boyhood to manhood was a smooth ride. Even as the most humble member of his society, he was assured of a dignified life, without having to prove his mettle. In fact, there was little to prove except that he was morally upright. He was not under any pressure to perform, to compete, to achieve the impossible, in impossible time. He needed only some skill, easily obtainable, to assure him of a simple, austere but elegant existence, with plenty of time for talk, travel, and sleep. The youth’s behavior then was entirely natural, and, but for a stray incident or two, a non-event for him and the society. But today – it is what it is.
What kind of a world today’s youth steps into? What does he see? We cannot of course make comprehensive statements about what he sees. For he sees the world, the whole of it. How can we say in two lines what he finds it like? Also, what he sees differs from place to place, people to people, culture to culture. Nevertheless, with some margin for error, we might adopt for ourselves a global view. (The Western view). And we can reduce our spectrum by ignoring the rest and look at what he sees of the human world, specifically, how it relates to him. (He is still a human being).
From this our chosen angle, he sees that the world of the older generation is a pretty complicated one. It has a plot thicker than what he thought. But, that is alright. After all he is new in the theatre hall. But what he begins to understand, little by little, puzzles him, amazes him, and finally, disappoints him. He sees people rushing about like they are, in his words, crazy bandicoots. They are toiling themselves out, in great urgency, one toppling over the other. Why? Is it to produce things that are already in abundance? He cannot figure out why they should be leading “a dog’s life” for accomplishing the accomplished.
He also sees that that there is a lot of injustice and stark inequality in the world. There are the very poor who live like rodents. And there are the very rich who don’t seem to be especially qualified for it. But that’s not all. Over the years he learns that they have earned what they have through dishonesty, lies, tricks and manipulation. In further time he realizes that that applies to individuals, classes as well nations. He further realizes that the system works in their favor. There is no changing the situation without changing the system. And no one knows who has designed the system, so he can go and ask, “how about a change old boy?!” Everybody he speaks to gives him to understand that some others are responsible for designing the system, and that they themselves are helpless chickens on the line.
He is persistently told to conform to the norms of the society. But he learns that the people in general are selfish, egotists, secretive, double-faced, with only a veil of compassion for others. They are deceptive in actions, evasive in answers and hollow in persons. Is that what he should become? He finds a gulf between himself and the elders. He thought he would bridge it. But it doesn’t work. They want him to jump over to their side. And they are one against him, to change him, to deceive him, to defeat him. They are his enemies.
But most devastating of all, he discovers that as an individual he is good for nothing, wanted nowhere, worthy in no one’s eyes. He must do things for others, not for himself, to be acceptable to them. He must get a degree, learn an art, prove his talent for business, sports, music – something or the other – before he can be noticed. If he cannot accomplish anything, his existence or non-existence “don’t matter to no one.” This is deeply disappointing. Indeed, it is painful to realize that he is not worthwhile for his intrinsic values, for what he is, a bright spark of nature, rather for extrinsic values, with the irony that he thinks those extrinsic values stink.
Ultimately the message has its impact: that he will have to accept the world as it is. He is not going to change a bit of it, as he had thought when he was freshly young. He must, rather, change himself and accept to be, not his self, but the stereotype his nation, his culture and his civilization have determined for him. He must even shrug his shoulders as everybody does. He is devastated. His romance is failing before it got going.
In short, today’s young man finds himself a complete stranger in the world of the older generation. He is natural, they are crafty. He is honest, they are deceptive. He is straightforward, they are devious. He is dynamic, they are burned out coals. He goes for the new, they for hackneyed. He loves the exotic, they are traditionists. He is blooming, they are fading. He is imaginative, they are matter-of-fact. He is text, they are grammar. He is protestant, they are catholic.
He is in a Paradise. But it is a Paradise of fools and fanatics – fanatics devoted to the concretization of the landscape. He is a misfit. He is worthless. He is in a prison. He is compressed gas in a bottle. He wants to burst out. He wishes to climb the tallest building, and shout out from there: “Hey! What have you given me? Take away from me whatever you will, but not my feelings, my humanity, my integrity. Why are you after my heart, my soul?”
Initially, the young do not want to give up without a struggle. Welled up with frustration, they protest – without being able to articulate what they are protesting about. They turn cars and set them ablaze on occasions of waiting. They set forests on fire. They try group sex, doing things that pigs would sit up on their tails and close their eyes with front paws. Some beat up elders. Some go to sports. One here, one there, hops into the Islamic train, and is whisked away. (Mourn the loss. He has escaped!) A few, and the few are many, cannot bear the disappointment, the frustration, and the pressure. They go for drugs. The most sensitive become hippies and vagabonds and ultimately end up driving taxis: one profession, which affords some freedom – if you own the car.
In time however, maybe five or ten excitable years, most of them climb down and accept the wise men’s counsel: “Fall in line, come to senses, be reasonable.” Like father like son, they settle down to the normal life, join the ranks of the law-abiding civilized citizens: call them sheep, call them wolves, call them what you will.