Tuesday, February 24, 2015

The Rights and Responsibilities of Generations


Communitarianism never really took off as a political movement, but its emphasis on both rights and responsibilities broadly accords with the flavor of Catholic social teaching. With that in mind, and inspired by the consciously inter-generational charism of the Sword of the Spirit community, I have been thinking a lot lately, as I watch my own parents age and my children grow, about the rights and responsibilities of generations. Not yet having run the full course of life, I realize these are limited by my own experience, but here are a few thoughts:

  • Young people, from high school students to recent college graduates, have lots of energy and, although they rarely recognize it, time. I would strongly recommend to anyone about to finish undergraduate studies that they consider undertaking missionary work, joining the military, or going to graduate school. This is the season of life for such things. I am glad, for my part, that I completed my PhD immediately after my undergraduate education. While additional "life experience" in the midst of my studies would have been valuable, I cannot imagine trying to finish coursework or a dissertation while raising a family.

  • On a related note: society desperately needs the enthusiastic service of young people. While service projects abound, it feels like many of them involve piecemeal efforts or the ticking of boxes. More organizations for sustained, dedicated service are needed, and more young people should be encouraged to participate in them. The Mormon missionary system comes to mind as a model of large-scale, coordinated utilization of young peoples' efforts.

  • Young single people need support. Two particular manifestations come to mind. First, I am deeply grateful for men a few years older than me who shared their lives. I have learned a great deal from them. With young children, my wife and I now find ourselves spending the overwhelming majority of our social time with other parents of young children. There are many fruits to this arrangement, but I fear that we are doing little to impart our wisdom (such as it is), sometimes gained with sweat and tears, to those who will need it in a few years.

  • Second, the debacle of the Texas A&M Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgendered Resource Center reminded me of how difficult it is to be a single person in a society saturated in sexual promiscuity. As Genesis reminds us, "It is not good for the man to be alone." Single life was a blessed season for me, but also a trying one, and I lived it in an extremely supportive environment. I cannot imagine doing so at a large public institution such as A&M (itself, by no means the worst of "party" schools). Why are there no Single People Striving to Live Chastity Resource Centers?

  • On the whole, our elders are neither accorded the seat of wisdom, nor would they know what to do with it if they were. Consider the term we use for those advanced in age: elderly. Literally, those like elders, but not actually such. Our society is so far removed from a reverence for our elders that most of us have no idea how to incorporate them into the regular habits of business and social life. Moreover, the generation now reaching retirement is a generation which - collectively, if not individually - rejected the oversight of their elders. If there was ever a sense for how elders gracefully receive deference and impart their wisdom while still permitting a younger generation to lead, that sense has been lost. Many of our elders today, so rarely receiving the respect due to their experience, are either embarrassed by the attention grasp at it in a way which is unhelpful. The wheel must be reinvented.
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