Growing Younger: Hope vs. Cynicism
Joel Eschenbach • January 02, 2017
An interesting video about Millennials from Simon Sinek has been all over Facebook lately. Which has got me thinking… Why is our culture and media so obsessed with Millennials?
Maybe it’s because they’re the largest generation in history, or because they are the future leaders of our culture. Maybe we like the excitement of youth instead of the boredom of middle age or the frailties of old age. Maybe we want to be younger and love the thought of immortality.
It could be all of those things, but in the scope of humanity, our culture’s obsession with emulating the young is a fairly new thing. Sure, every generation throughout history has wanted to find their own version of the Fountain of Youth, but for the first time in human history, "The young have become a model of emulation for the older population, rather than the other way around.” This is what author and professor Robert Harrison said in his book Juvenescence. The process of juvenescence that got underway in the postwar period, he observed, "has unleashed extraordinary youthful energies in our species and represents one of the momentous revolutions in human cultural history."
Being young is a strange thing. You know what it’s like. Whether you’re a teen or twenty-something, you seem to know everything about the world and very little at the same time. In one sense, you have it all figured out, and in another, you know that it's just beginning, that you still have your whole life ahead of you.
I had it all figured out by the time I was 21, or so I thought. I didn’t have a lot of wisdom, but there was one thing that I seemed to have a stockpile of…
You see, the cynicism of getting older hadn’t set in yet. I hadn’t been exposed to the predicability of people’s failures and the disillusionment of life. Sure, I’d been through some shit and had people that I trusted let me down, but I hadn't seen it over and over and over again. I hadn’t experienced the scale of humanity’s addiction to self-interest or seen the lengths that my own ego would go to get what I wanted at the expense of others. Hope was still my default, not cynicism.
This new cultural trend of emulating the young might not be all bad after all, at least the writers of the Bible seemed to think so. Throughout the scriptures, there are many stories where it seemed that God preferred using the hopeful, young, and unqualified to accomplish amazing things over the older cynical sibling:
- Starting all the way back in the book of Genesis, Cain’s younger brother Abel brought “the better” offering to God.
- In spite of Jacob’s deceptiveness and manipulation, he was the younger brother that became the namesake of Israel.
- Joseph was the young hopeful dreamer that eventually ruled Egypt, despite almost being murdered by his older brothers.
- Then there’s David, the optimistic shepherd boy who arguably became the greatest king of all time!
The list goes on and on.
Jesus also had quite a bit to say about the young (and the young at heart). In the book of Luke he said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. Truly I tell you, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.”
What was Jesus saying here?
Well, the kingdom of God can be interpreted many different ways, but I prefer the idea that the Kingdom is the place where God is, where the Divine is experienced, where Spirit lives.
Maybe he was saying that only those who start over, who have a "beginners mind”, who have a teachable spirit, who start with humility, the ones who’s default is hope - those are the ones that will understand and have access to the “kingdom”.
The Buddhist monk, Shunryu Suzuki said, "In the beginner's mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert's there are few."
The beginner is full of hope and faith, whereas the expert seems to get caught up in what they know and seem mostly concerned with defending their position. They become cynical because they’ve seen it all before. They forget that surprises and exceptions show up everyday and that the Divine shows up in those exceptions. I love what Paul D’Arcy said, "God comes to you disguised as your life."
- Shunryu Suzuki
Somehow we think that cynicism is a weird form of maturity or the wisdom of old age. We practically expect old men to react with anger and bitterness. We’ve all met older people who are cynical and bitter, but we’ve also met a few that are happy and full of hope.
I don’t know about you, but I want to become the latter.
How? This year, I’m going to reject cynicism on a daily basis and choose to be hopeful and teachable. I love the saying “Everyone is my teacher”. I’ve tried that on for a day. It’s a tough practice.
If we keep that kind of humility and hope, not only will we humbly experience God, we’ll be the youngest people on earth, no matter how old we are.
It’s never too late to grow younger!