Lee Bycel: Guest opinion
October 3, 2011
No, the headline does not refer to the television show characters from Genoa City, Wis., but some of the inspiring youth who live here in the Roaring Fork Valley. Last week the Aspen Institute offered its annual Great Ideas seminar for juniors from several high schools (Aspen, Basalt, Roaring Fork, Glenwood Springs, Bridges and Colorado Rocky Mountain School). Each time I moderate this unique seminar I am taken by the yearning of these young people to engage in honest, open discussion and grapple with timeless ideas and values.
Throughout our days of dialogue, they wrote brief reflections on a variety of topics including the just society, happiness and their own dreams and hopes. One of the central issues that the teens expressed (which is what I have heard over and over during the years) is that many of them do not feel listened to or respected as people or for their views. Their voices are powerful and insightful and reflect the challenges of living in the twilight zone between childhood and adulthood.
As a teenager, I want you to know that true trust and respect are the most important things adults can give us. Only the most absolute and complete form of respect and trust, however, will be respected and trusted in return.
As a teenager, I would like to tell you that being born in this generation, it might be harder than when you were young. Not by education, but by peer pressure and most things in our lives. We are either equally or more stressed.
Indeed, they are young and they are restless and yet they have incredibly mature insights about the world in which they live and are restless to shape good and meaningful lives. I am really impressed with the character, the intellectual and emotional openness, and the passion of the young people who participated. In 18 hours over four days, while still going to school, we explored some of the great ideas of Plato, Aristotle and Confucius. We examined a variety of social issues raised by the voices of Virginia Woolf, Rachel Carson and Martin Luther King. We honestly conversed about our own journeys as we opened up the writings of contemporary authors Ian McEwan, Joyce Carol Oates and Ursula LeGuin.
As a teenager, I want you to know that I’m not a stereotype. I do want to learn when I’m in school. I’m not the picture of a teenager that you have in your head. So please, when you meet me, let that stereotype go.
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As a teenager, I want you to know that I am mature and I do understand the complexities of life and nature.
The timeless and timely questions of what is a life well lived, what is the just society and how do we live in communities that flourish were explored in a most respectful and thoughtful way. There was great difference in opinion on many subjects but rather than trying to convince the other of one’s position, the environment was one where great value was placed on trying to understand other views and learning how one could reach a position that is so different than one’s own.
Unlike political and social discussions that bombard us in the media, our discussion was guided by principles that allow for real learning and understanding.
As a teenager, I want you to know that I yearn to be heard, and not to be overlooked as though my opinion doesn’t matter. I want you to know who I am and who I will be.
As a teenager, I want you to know that you don’t have to be right all the time or know everything that I wonder about. Sometimes it’s OK to let others teach you.
At the beginning of our week they described the social reality of life as a teenager: pressured, busy, worried about the future, fun, pulled in many directions, confused, vulnerable, curious, and concerned about the state of the world, hopeful and myriad other feelings. They connected their lives to the texts we explored and saw that their yearnings for a more equitable and peaceful world have been around for a long time. That we have not yet achieved a more sustainable world does not seem to intimidate them from believing that we can.
As a teenager, I want you to know that I’m scared. I’m scared of the future. I’m scared of disappointing, of not living up to expectations. I’m scared of what the world is coming to. I’m scared I’m not good enough, and that I won’t ever be. I’m scared to be happy.
As a teenager, I want you to know: I am not drunk, high, pregnant, ignorant or reckless. I have dreams, aspirations, fears and hopes.
I left the seminar feeling most encouraged by their honesty, openness and dreams. We have much to learn from them and they have much to learn from us.
The young and restless of the Roaring Fork Valley are wise beyond their years and restless to live in a world that is safer, more just and more humane. Perhaps working together, we might just make that happen.
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