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Friday Takeaway: ‘Don’t trust anyone over 30’



Friday, July 06, 2018

Don’t trust anyone over 30.

If you’re over 30 yourself (and then some), you might know the origin of this saying. Jack Weinberg, a lefty Berkeley-based activist, coined the phrase back in 1964, just as things were heating up politically across many fronts. My dad used to quote it all the time, with a fair amount of irony. (He himself was over 30 by the time I came along.)

But I haven’t heard this adage much in the past 15 years or so. It’s a perennial habit to bemoan “kids today,” but it seems like the latest generation is really getting nailed. The prevailing wisdom has been that they’re all narcissistic, entitled and selfie-obsessed, ruined by too many trophies and too few character-building failures. “The Me-Me-Me Generation,” a Time magazine cover called millennials back in 2013. How much do you want to bet that headline was written by
a baby boomer?

As far as I can tell, the baby boomers took a country that offered more people a fairer shake than it ever had before, and instead of guarding that opportunity and building upon it, they squandered it. Under their watch, the safety net is being gutted, the planet is almost literally on fire, people are zombifying themselves on opioids, and more citizens are stockpiling weapons than in recent memory. Thanks, guys!  Baby Boomer Weinberg is well over 30 himself now — and so, for that matter, am I. But today, as the world gets hotter and hotter — in every sense — this quote rings truer than ever. Those of us over 30 have clearly screwed things up. I look to my kids and their peers, all still too young to vote, and follow their lead. 

Unfortunately, we haven’t given our kids the best soapbox. Many of them are crouching in the corners of their classrooms, hoping those weapons aren’t aimed at them. Still, when they talk, I listen. I listen to the Parkland kids, who it’s fair to say are leading the national conversation on gun control, willing to step up against the National Rifle Association when our elected legislators refuse. I listen to the youngest voices in the #MeToo movement, who point out that the binary approach their parents took doesn’t always apply. I listen to my own kids, so young their generation hasn’t yet been named, already savvy about elections they aren’t old enough to participate in. They’re quick to correct me when I use the wrong pronouns for one of their friends; careful to point out the inherent racism and misogyny about pop culture I once took in uncritically. They’re tuned in — and they’re not dropping out. 

When kids are really little, they see the world with fresh eyes; their lack of preconceived ideas allows them to show us the world anew. It’s one of the greatest gifts of parenthood. Now that my children are a little older and a lot more aware, they’re still doing this for me. They hold a mirror up to a society that many of us have given up questioning and force me to reconsider my own biases and assumptions.

Many of the strongest, most outspoken people I know are under 30 (or even under 20). They are the ones giving me the greatest sense of hope. I look forward to this generation taking the reins. I wish we could offer them a better world than the one they’re getting. 

It will take a while yet before my children’s generation is in a position of true power, however. For now, it’s still on me and you. I’m reminded of an ancient Jewish parable about an old man planting a tree. “You won’t live long enough to see that tree bear fruit,” a passerby pointed out. “When I was born, the land was filled with trees,” the man replied. “I plant these trees not for myself, but for my grandchildren.”

It may be hard to trust anyone over 30, but for now, we have no choice to depend on ourselves. Think of it this way: We are planting trees for our kids. 

Naomi Shulman’s work has appeared in many publications including The New York Times,  The Washington Post and Yankee Magazine, as well
as on NEPR and WBUR. Follow her on Twitter:
@naomishulman.