Last week, Alexandra Petri, the Washington Post’s resident humorist, penned an opinion that struck a nerve.
Ms. Petri’s piece, “I am sick of these kids demanding safe spaces,” is a jab at those who have been critical of the young people who led the March for Our Lives protests. I found the editorial, which no doubt provided much amusement, especially to millennials, to be less than funny. It went over like a pumpkin at Easter. Or a lead balloon, if you prefer.
Ms. Petri adopts the tone of some mythical elder scoffing at the spoiled youth of today and recounting the supposed trials and tribulations of their own childhood.
The only problem is that a lot of those myths were my everyday reality as a child and later as an adolescent. Of course, as best I can tell, I was about 40 when Ms. Petri was born so my youth was much different than hers.
We didn’t have a lot of the things she has always taken for granted. We didn’t have some of the same attitudes, either.
Ms. Petri wrote: “I look at kids these days and I despair. They need to man up and solve their own problems. They need to stop demanding to be coddled. Children now are bad and soft, and far too few of them have experienced the grit developed by being needlessly exposed to communicable diseases, or urged to ride bicycles without helmets.”
It’s a bit funny, even though it’s not the humor Ms. Petri intended. We frequently were exposed to certain communicable diseases so that we would catch them as children instead of later when they could be far more deadly. We weren’t urged to ride bicycles without helmets; we never had helmets.
However, we did have winners and losers. In spite of their best efforts and the cheers of family and friends, everyone didn’t win all the time. You might get a ribbon for participating, but somebody got the trophy for winning.
Perhaps more to the point, we didn’t have “free-range children” because we were all free-range children. We certainly didn’t have states passing laws to protect what we were and what our parents and their parents before them had been. We didn’t expect to have safe spaces in college – or even high school – where we could be shielded from opposing opinions while we played with Play-Doh and had blankets. We didn’t get to drop out of classes because the curriculum was uncomfortable.
We had to learn to understand dissent and realize there would be people that disagreed with us and that they might even get nasty about it.
We also had to learn that we could be wrong. It wasn’t always the adults making the mistakes. In fact, adults could often be right. They could often be every bit as bright as we were and had the additional wisdom that experience provides.
David Hogg, Emma Gonzalez and the others in Never Again MSD want to complain that legislators haven’t made them safe because the measures they favor haven’t been enacted, that’s their right. If others want to disagree because those measures wouldn’t have made them safer or because there were other factors involved in the tragedy at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, that’s their right, too.
We want our children to be safe. We want our children to speak up and be able to expect us to listen. But we also want our children to understand that the world isn’t always going to cheer them on. It isn’t even always going to agree with them. And they aren’t always going to be correct.