Maybe it’s because I’m in my thirties, but I’ve begun to notice that our society equates ‘life’ with ‘youth’. By that I mean that concepts relating to “life” immediately stir up images of youthfulness. Close your eyes and visualize ‘life’ and ‘living’ – you might see what I mean. “Life” is misidentified with the decade or so of youth that is sandwiched between two other periods called “childhood” and “aging/decline”.
This week’s journal topic: Youth Worship
Why did Life become equated with Youth?
At bare minimum definition, life is a process of natural change within an organism. Any organism that goes through a process of natural change is alive. To understand what this bare minimum definition means, let’s break it into two concepts: process and natural change. A process is an expression of energy movement, and natural change is the freedom to move according to an inner drive. Youth clearly expresses these concepts essential to ‘life’, and that is why we associate youth with life.
- Youth are given freedom. Young people are free to make mistakes and act recklessly and are forgiven for their actions. Youth are free to disregard financial advice and spend money on toys, fashion, and travel. Youth are encouraged to figure out who they are, a process during which making mistakes is critical. Outside of the ages 18-35, an adult is expected to know better; they are expected to impose limitations on themselves.
- Youth have an abundance of physical energy. By the mid-thirties adults are drained of life energy because of sedentary lifestyles and poor nutrition combined with job stress, all of which lead to ill health.
There is something extra that draws us to youth: physical beauty. There has always been physical beauty in youth, but social media indulges us in a constant barrage of attractive, youthful images. The effect is that the beauty of youth is exclusively normalized, while the beauty of other ages is left unappreciated. By the way, we cannot blame this on the youth – each of us is responsible for our own social media feed.
Implications of Equating Life with Youth
Equating life with youth has terrible implications for the choices that adults make and for their self-respect. Fear of aging is really a deep fear of becoming irrelevant, of dying before having lived. Equating life with youth denies decades of opportunities to appreciate oneself and to witness the entire process of life with genuine curiosity.
Youth are not untouched by the equation of life and youth. They also feel pressure as a result of the fear of becoming irrelevant. The two messages to youth are:
- Resist aging. The attitude towards aging is: don’t. Of course, this is impossible, and many men and women feel disappointed by what they see in the mirror after another birthday.
- Achieve ASAP. The great fear is that we die before ever having lived, to become irrelevant before having shown the world how special we are. If life is over by 35, time is running out quickly.
The result is that many young people feel washed-up, hopeless, depressed, and self-loathing.
Should we continue to equate life with youth?
The only answer to this question is to reiterate that a human physical life is a process that begins in the womb and ends at death. “Life” is not exclusively your twenties or thirties. Life is every moment in your process, so long as you allow yourself to express freedom and energy.
- What images in society do you see that express youth worship? (e.g. in films, advertisements, magazine articles, government spending, church activities, etc.)
- Have specific milestone birthdays (or birthdays in general) changed how you feel about yourself? (i.e. your self-regard or self-respect)
- What activity will you do (or did you do) today that expresses the pressure to avoid aging or achieve something ASAP?
- Would there be too much disorder in society if adults allowed themselves freedom to make mistakes?
- Do you agree that older people are irrelevant in society?
- What advantages do adults over 35 have? What do they have that is inaccessible to younger people?
- Since we’ll all be old someday: how can we make older people feel more valuable in society?
How to Get the most out of Know Thyself 2019:
Don’t rush through the questions. Do one question every day, leaving space to add thoughts later as you learn and evolve. The journal is designed to help you develop a consistent, daily practice of self-reflection.
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