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Published On: Thu, Nov 5th, 2020

The burden of youth

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Thursday Column with Mohammed Adamu

By Mohammed Adamu

There are two, often mutually exclusive collections of natures pulling away the fabric of ‘youth’ always at opposing, or almost equidistant directions: the frail qualities in ‘youth’ of childishness and naivety, innocence and credulity, gullibility and impatience and then simplicity and exuberance. All of these seem always to combine to pull away ‘youth’ from its virtuous other qualities of strength and vigor, energy and vitality, courage and determination, hope and promise and then excitement and enthusiasm. In the youth runs the riot of two opposing tendencies. In the choices alone that even the best cultivated youth makes, lies a perfect denouement or a tragic ending.
Either way ‘youth’ has absolutely no excuse, to afford to waste its enormous promising potentials of strength, vigor and vitality on the altar of its own intrinsic corruptive frailties of naivety, gullibility and impatience. Thus youth has always been the concern of all the ages. For what it elects or fails to do. But no matter what it chooses to do, the counsel of ‘old age’ it must not ignore, to never afford to waste this delicate ‘age’ in life! As Shakespeare would say “Though the chamomile (a species of grass) the more it is trodden on the faster it grows, yet youth the more it is wasted the faster it wears”.
Because the tragedy of youth is that each of the two classes of youthful attributes afore-listed holds the erroneous promise of indulging the fancies of ‘youth’ either in positive or negative direction. So that the naïvely innocent and the exuberantly gullible child resident in the fabric of ‘youth’ may be fooled to buy the false promise that everything worth having in life is always there just for the ‘taking’. And herein lies the potentials in ‘youth’ for a life of ‘wait-and-get’ –that indulgent utopia redolent of the belief that life is always a pot of soup simply waiting to be licked.
On the other hand, although the quality in ‘youth’ of strength and vitality, excitement and enthusiasm, courage and determination and hope and promise may more likely conduce to mold the ideal ‘go-getter-youth’ than it may the indulgent one who ‘waits-to-get’, nonetheless the mutative hormones of youth are not altogether reliable. They may also hold the promise that ‘everything worth having at all is worth ‘cheating for’. And herein too, lies the potentials in ‘youth’, fresh from an indulgent life of ‘wait-and-get’, to move to a lazy one of ‘grab-and-take’. Trapped in this abyss ‘youth’ is apt to live by the dint of ‘crook’ rather than by the ‘hook’ of merit! This is what we have ennobled, and this is what is threatening to gorge us all!
No nation can afford ‘youths’ with the entitlement mentality of having to live by ‘crook’ ironically because the older generation has not taught it how to live by ‘hook’. Or can anything be more dangerous? Said Welsh poet Dylan Thomas, “In growing up we cross the line from innocence to corruption”. The regress is nil, the fall is easy. And raw youth is the one less likely always to cross this chasm in a single jump. Nor can this chasm be crossed in more than just a jump! Many a youth, being exuberant, impatient, inexperienced and naïve, no matter how prepared, have succumbed.
When an old Republican Ronald Reagan, on campaign for the presidency of the United States of America, said of his youthful Democratic opponent, Walter Mondale “I will not make age an issue of this campaign. I am not going to exploit for political purposes my opponent’s youth and inexperience”, he was alluding to the baggage of these human frailties that youths are inescapably heirs to. No matter what Ivy League they are a product of, no matter how excellent their parenting had been and no matter how morally upright the society is that has baked them, ‘youth’ will always have to be youth; it can only learn on the job. Or destructively, it may unleash its potentials on all.
Youth being hot-blooded is apt always to find out ‘right’ with ‘wrong’. Reason Shakespeare said “Young blood doth not obey an old decree”. Because not having the relish of the saltiness of time, ‘youth’ may not know ‘patience’ the way that those blasted with antiquity, do! And it is what a character in Shakespeare’s ‘Second Part of King Henry the Sixth’ is saying to ‘age’: “You that are old consider not the capacities of us that are young; you do measure the heat of our livers with the bitterness of your galls”.
The message being: we are not ‘bitter’ by the galls like you do; we are only angry at the unremitting bitterness of your rule. The old had all the time to tame the cynicism of, and to tend to the modest demands of youth; but they have opted instead to test the elasticity of a fabric that is essentially inelastic.
It is this crudely corrupting stage of ‘youth’ that Cleopatra, in Shakespeare’s tragic play ‘Antony and Cleopatra’, describes as her own “salad days”; -a period she says when she was “green in judgment (and) cold in blood”. The ‘youth’ being ‘green in judgment’ speaks to the same frail characteristics of this age, of sheer innocence and naivety, of credulity and gullibility and of foolishness and inexperience. Said a former British Prime Minister, William Pitt the Elder: “Youth is the season of credulity”.
But youth is also the age of obstinacy. The youth are flighty of emotion, hasty in decision and when irritated, like the grizzly bear, uncontrollably destructive. It is this other volatile aspect of ‘youth’ (in addition to being ‘green in judgment’) that Cleopatra describes as being “cold in blood”. And it is this very ‘youth’ that the British poet, T.S. Eliot in his ‘Portrait of a Lady’, describes as “cruel and has no remorse”. It is a character he says, that “smiles at situations which it cannot see”. This ‘youth’ is implacable; it will destroy even the playthings that its exuberance had craved in the first place. It is the ‘youth’ that now says ‘to hell with all’!
This was the youth that had succeeded in ENDING SARS but would not leave the streets. This was the youth that was obstinate to the wiser counsel that it should appoint leaders to negotiate its victories. This was the youth that had won the battles mid-air, but rebuffed entreaties to come down to secure the surrenders. This was the youth that had won the war but did not know how to secure the peace. This was the youth that should’ve been sitting at the negotiating table giving terms and conditions for a new Nigeria; but this is the youth now trying desperately to prove its loses –even as it is unwilling to recognize the greater loses that its own obstinacy had caused.
And the tragedy of the situation now is as the French historian Jacques Bainville painted it, when he wrote: “The old repeat themselves and the young have nothing to say. The boredom is mutual”. So now the youth, by foolishly opting to get in touch more with their feelings than in contact with their minds, have run this game between them and the old, into a draw of equal equities. They are now having to continue singing ‘aluta continua’, when they should be singing ‘we have overcome’, -and the ‘old’ humming ‘we submit’. Now it is the old that are asking them to ‘re-submit’.

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