Sometimes I think about all the young men and all the young women who get wasted by our culture. Sometimes I think how sad their moms and dads must be about what happens to their children, who may have been such sweet young boys and girls, but somehow went astray, made bad or terrible choices, as they turned into young men or women. I think about how they have just, pouf, disappeared from the lives they should have led; the lives of productive people who find something about life to enjoy and who get to pursue it.
Sometimes I remember that what these young men and women have become makes most of us fear them. We feel that they would not hesitate to do us harm if we were in their way or even in their vicinity at the wrong moment. Our fears somehow deepen their anger and their allegiance to ever more threatening behavior. Sadly their very bad behavior cuts them off from any affection and redemption we might want to offer them.
They have come to believe that staying alienated is their strongest protection against the injustices of a society that has not been kind. They decide to adopt the life of a thug, to be a tough guy, or some tough guy’s “shortie”, and then they offer their society of alienation to other young men and women as they reach maturity. They become an alternate culture, so to speak, and they serve each other as a surrogate family, however stern and demanding a family it might be. Perhaps some of this is stereotype, but the waste of young men, especially, and the women who love these bad men, is inescapably and statistically obvious.
What could we do just at that moment, that Middle School moment when boys begin to become men and girls become women? How could we prevent that shift to that lifestyle that requires that a protective and tough wall will need to be built around a man or women in order for him/her to proceed with life? There must be some way to intervene in this sad transformation that leads a young person to basically throw their life away to be spent in hate, or crime, or prison. These are men and women who could be heroes, but they choose the “dark side of the force” and we don’t know what to do about it.
Isn’t there any life we could offer that would turn them “towards the good side of the force, towards the light”? I am not trying to be glib about this; I am just trying to use terms that make sense in terms of our current experiences. Is it possible that these alienated young people are our adventurers? Perhaps they are the ones who would have led caravans and explored continents and gone where no man had gone before. Perhaps what we need to do is use them in ways that tap into this desire to be anything but ordinary; to do things that expand the limits of human experience. Maybe these teens ought to serve apprenticeships with anthropologists, or geologists. Maybe they should be trained to eventually lead us off into space. Maybe they could help in places where heroic personality traits are not superfluous. Do we have enough things like this for people to do? Could we catch young men or women at the moment when they are most impressionable and help direct them to a really satisfying task that would help society and offer a great life to each of them?
We could start with Computer Camps offered for free during summers in our cities. If theft and vandalism are obstacles we could put the computers on buses and drive them into the appropriate neighborhoods in the morning and drive them back out at night. A security guard might be provided if that ended up being necessary. In a TED talk I listened to last night a teacher talked about how far students fall back in their progress over the summer. This would help make that summer slump go away without requiring students to sit in traditional classrooms over the summer. Of course, there would have to be brilliant geeks manning these computers and showing these young people the ropes, the possibilities, and the opportunities, and letting them see how exciting technology can be.
Even I can see that this is overly simplistic. These young people who have chosen the “dark side” will still be out there smashing attempts of those who want a different life with bullying and fear. They will try to prevent the next generation from winning their way through to a future that does not lead to imprisonment because they can’t stand to see any one win, or they believe these young people are traitors to their particular corner of the culture, or we don’t even know why. I hope there are other ideas out there, ideas that will really succeed in turning life around for all the young men and young women we are wasting. If you have a great idea make sure someone hears about it. Writing an editorial for the newspaper is often a good way to get a great idea across. We’re losing people every day.