It is thought-provoking when, in the course of offering advice to graduates, speakers have to continually add tolerance and civility to the list.
The polarization of our nation has become increasingly disheartening. And at a time when young people are being pushed forth into the “Real World,” we wish the obvious didn’t have to be so overstated.
Perhaps it’s more of a warning of what graduates are about to encounter, those minefields of trolls and cynics. But we remain optimistic that graduates — from college or high school — have lived through enough online tantrums via social media, and seen the various forms that bullies and opportunists can take, that they can navigate the future — maybe even more gracefully than adults today.
These are challenging times, to say the least.
There are countless studies being done trying to untangle the ball of threads that have become our present-day society: social media’s roles, widespread anger and divisiveness, intolerance, partisanship, instant gratification, moral degradation, a higher threshold for violence, a lack of intellectual thought or critical thinking, self-adulation, a need for constant validation and a propensity to constantly be rewriting personal histories.
As we have noted here before: This mess is of our own making. We have allowed it to become our “new normal.” And we spend a lot of our time complaining about how things are today.
The charge of our youth today needs to be to replace those trends with the following:
Be kind. It’s true. And it should be top of mind. Kindness goes a long way toward sending positive messages and promoting unity and community. That means looking after one another for the right reasons — not praise or ego. Do it because it’s the right thing to do.
Be responsible. Your actions are yours and yours alone. If you make bad choices, own them and suffer the consequences with grace and poise. Only you can control your role in situations. Don’t make them harder than they have to be. It’s already hard enough.
Be accepting. This means being tolerant, but in this age of algorithms and “likes,” it is easy to be programmed by what we are told we want to see and hear. Don’t willingly be part of your echo chamber. Instead, seek out other points of view; put yourself outside your comfort zone; have conversations that challenge your thinking.
Be civil. Somehow this trait has gotten completely lost in modern communication. Civility allows for engagement, which allows for debate, which allows for parties to agree to disagree. And move on without grudges, pigeon-holing people or slipping on the slope of further intolerance. Be mindful and listen. And, perhaps most important, do both without judgment. That means be respectful. In every interaction, be present. Respond without emotion. Learn to be rational.
Learn something every day. We are lifelong learners if we allow ourselves to be. And knowledge is power. That also means taking the time to make meaningful connections. Meet new people; hear their stories. And make every attempt to understand how their skill, expertise, compassion and place fit in the network of your community at large. Everyone has value, and has a place in our lives — even people who are challenging or difficult.
Make mistakes. You have to know how to pick yourself up when you make a mistake or misstep. Be honest with yourself, own your errors, learn what you can do to avoid them moving forward. Don’t pass the blame off onto others, and don’t shift the burdens you create. They are yours. Digging out from such hardships may prove to be the most rewarding (and unforgettable) lessons of being responsible and true to one’s self.
And live simply. Ditch the devices and have conversations, play board games, go for a walk, listen to birds, sing, read a book, enjoy a good meal made with friends, and distill that list of blessings down to a handful. Let yourself interact with the world around you without assumptions or drama. Live. Simply.
Changing habits and behaviors can be harder than you think. It can lead to internal turmoil and a fair amount of anxiety. None of the advice being thrown around is hard to follow. But it does require reminders at times.
People of all ages — the young and the young at heart — can hold negativism, intolerance and meanness at bay. It’s what we need. It’s where we need to go.