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The Federalist Diaries
I Don’t Want to Grow Up, Part 2
solution to adult problems tomorrow depends on large
-Margaret Mead, American cultural anthropologist, 1901-1978
In part 1 we looked at how the use of the word “kid” could affect our expectation and treatment of youth, because of the belief that youth had potential to help adults meet the great challenges of our times, but because we treated youth as “kids”, we failed to tap that potential. We left off in part 1 with the suggestion that we drop “kid” from our vocabulary and outlook, with the hope that they, in turn, change their vocabulary and outlook because of our change.
Is this a practical suggestion?
Changing vocabulary smacks of political correctness, which is disliked, if not disdained, in our culture. It is true that when we change language, we lose a bit of its flavor. But to the extent that language affects thought—you can google to find this to be true—we should change language in order to change our outlook about youth—if we agree that youth have potential which we are not tapping for their sake and ours.
Perhaps the secret lies not in agreeing upon the need for the change, but, rather, in the method used to bring about that change. If we demand a change in vocabulary with all seriousness and somberness which comes through law and regulation, perhaps even penalizing noncompliance, protests will arise and people will mock a worthy cause. But if we turned the change into a serious, yet entertaining, game, the change would come and be embraced, not just tolerated. So the key, it seems, would be to create a serious, yet entertaining, game, one which would stay serious and entertaining.
Easier said than done, right? It is easy for a meaningful game to devolve into a meaningless game. For some reason, we humans are good at taking something meaningful and emptying it of meaning. An example which comes to mind is the small yellow sign which fifteen years ago we would stick in the rear windows of our cars. “Baby on board”, used by some to prevent a gaffe by a tailgating driver, turned into a laugh by the same driver as the sign mutated into “Ex-wife in trunk”. How, then, might we have a meaningful game to change our vocabulary about young people?
How? We would start with people to whom we look for guidance: elected officials, organization officers, community leaders and activists, and spiritual leaders. Each would make a pledge to change her / his vocabulary, with a meaningful, voluntary penalty whenever he slipped. It would be up to the rest of us to note when he slipped and hold him to the voluntary penalty, which could be a dollar into a kitty—as Rotarians, Lions, Kiwanians, and others members of service organizations do—or some time in needed community service, anything from giving a talk at a school to painting over graffiti. The person who caught the slip would choose the voluntary penalty. The group of pledge makers would grow, with more people becoming conscious of their vocabulary.
Each pledge maker would wear something visible which would remind the rest of us of the pledge. This individual visibility would be accompanied by community-wide publicity, as would come from resolutions by elected officials and community organizations, messages from the pulpit and podium, and even displays in annual parades and on outdoor billboards.
The change in vocabulary would not take place in a day or even a month. But within a year, there could be a noticeable difference in the community. The game would address our adult expectation of youth, but what would motivate youth to meet that expectation?
December 13, 2007
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