The aftermath of the US presidential election continues. Social media has basically become anti-social media, bringing out the worst aggressive behaviors I've seen in years.
I've tried to be good. I've tried to listen more than speak. When I've spoken, I've tried to speak on behalf of "the least of these" that we are called to serve (Matthew 25:40) ... on behalf of "those who mourn", who are blessed by God (Matthew 5:4) ... in general, speaking words of healing and life. I've tried to stay out of it.
But I can't stand it anymore.
The latest trend I'm seeing on social media is unfiltered criticism by conservatives of college students, especially those college students who supported losing candidates in the last election. They're "wimps" who should just "get over it". They're "special snowflakes" for needing safe spaces and accommodations for stress. They're "crybabies" who are only upset because they didn't get their way.
To all of you, I have one thing to say.
SHUT UP. NOW.
This is my world you're talking about.
I have the great privilege of walking amongst college students every day. These students are working incredibly hard to prepare for careers that don't exist yet, to create a future that none of us can envision. And, occasionally, these students invite me into their hearts and lives to see more of the world that they are creating for the rest of us. It is the one thing that keeps me going.
For most of these college students, this is the first presidential election in which they participated. They had no idea what to expect (as if ANY of us expected the roller coaster of the last eighteen months), because they were too young to participate in any prior elections.
And you're criticizing them because they don't have the life experiences of old farts like me in order to handle the massive swing of emotions that happened this week? You're criticizing idealistic nineteen-year-old students for not being embittered fifty-year-old cynics? (Well, I guess I know how we get cynics now.)
Do you honestly think that calling students "crybabies", "wimps", and "special snowflakes" will change their thoughts and attitudes? How is this helpful? How does this engage with their concerns --- some of which are absolutely valid, by the way --- and move them towards healing? Can you think of a single person who you've called a "crybaby" who suddenly realized the error of their ways?
"Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen." (--Ephesians 4:29)
No, we didn't have "safe spaces" a generation ago. And you know what? Life sucked a generation ago, too. Except that we all hid our concerns from each other and pretended that everything was okay. That repressed emotion took other ugly forms. You might have come out of it just fine, but lots of other people didn't. But you wouldn't know that, because they weren't allowed to tell you that they weren't okay.
A decade ago, I was a parent of two pre-school children. It sucked. Being a father was (and is) the hardest thing I'd ever done in my life. I tried to reach out to people to ask for their help and support. You know what I got instead?
"Suck it up, it'll only be worse when they're teenagers."
I needed a safe space where I could express the pain in my life and receive comfort and counsel. But I was denied that space.
And so I shut down. I shut people out of my life, portraying the perfect little image they demanded from me. And I sat at home and wept because of it.
I would not have made it through that phase of my life except for four people: my parents, and two wise saints at my church. They stood beside me and said: "Yes, this sucks. You're not imagining it. It's hard. But you can get through this, and it will get better." They'd been there; they'd lived through those days. They took the time to accept me, to love me, to pray for me, and to put their love into action around me. And that's how I got through the pre-school phase of life.
That, and lots of reruns of "Dora the Explorer". But that's a story for another time.
I see these college students around me, trying to make sense of the world around them, fearful of the world we old farts have bequeathed to them, not certain how to transform it into the world they want it to be. The last thing they need is a bunch of us ridiculing them. If they are wrong, they will figure it out soon enough. If they are right, the last thing they need is for us to stand in their way.
There is a poignant scene in a first-season episode of Babylon 5. An ambassador from Centauri Prime is caught up in a marriage dispute; a young couple who wish to marry for love are being forced to return home to participate in arranged marriages to other people, and have appealed to him for help. Everything he has been taught as a good Centauri tells him that his culture is right, and their young and foolish passions are wrong. And then, in a conversation with his young aide, he stops and says "My shoes are too tight." His aide becomes confused, and the ambassador says:
"Something my father said. He was... Old, very old at the time. I went into his room, and he was sitting, alone in the dark, crying. So I asked him what was wrong, and he said, "My shoes are too tight. But it doesn't matter, because I have forgotten how to dance." I never understood what that meant until now. My shoes are too tight, and I have forgotten how to dance."
I wonder how many of us old farts react to young people with hostility and contempt because our shoes are too tight, we have forgotten how to dance, and we are jealous of their well-fitting shoes and joyous dancing.
These young men and women are not "crybabies" or "wimps" or "special snowflakes". They are men and women created in the image of God, endowed by God with the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. And in many cases, they are my friends.
They have much to learn. But so do I. And I am not so arrogant as to assume which one of us is the teacher and which is the student in this moment.
"My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires." ---(James 1:19-20).
I choose to stand with them.