We are often told that we, young adults, must respect our elders. But do we often say that they must also respect us? Unfortunately, there are many young people who don’t respect adults and it is a common society complain. But there are also many adults who don’t respect young people, and I think it is important to discuss about it too.
These past few months, I have been disappointed by several incidents, which all happened in places where they are not used to see young people very often. I am going to tell you about three of these events: The first took place in a café, the second in a luxury department store and the third at a conference in a very distinguished literature society. As I usually go to these places with my mother, I could easily see the huge difference of treatment between her and me, and I was not at ease with that. The three incidents that I am about to tell you made me realize that age should not be a reason to give a different treatment to the people you have in front of you. As long as they are polite, interested and that they smile, why would there be any difference? Our culture is used to privilege adults, because they have money and experience, but is it a reason to disrespect young adults who sacrifice their fragile economies for the things they love? I think young adults, who already have difficulties finding their way through adulthood, should be encouraged and shown as much respect as any “real” adult.
The first incident took place in an empty café on a cold morning. I went there at 10:30am to have coffee and breakfast, but as I asked to the fifty years old waitress if she had a croissant left for me, she answered, after taking a brief moment to think, that she didn’t. I was a bit disappointed to have nothing in the stomach, but well, I drank my coffee while reading the newspaper, and I was happy.
The thing is, ten minutes later came four old ladies who sat on a table behind me. I distinctly heard them ask for four croissants, and I also heard the waitress answer: “Yes of course! I’ll bring them to you”.
How was I supposed to react? I think I should have said something, but I did not feel like having an argument. So I quietly paid and left.
Two weeks later, my mother and godmother were having lunch at the same place, so I joined them for coffee. As I sat at their table, the same waitress came and asked my mother: “ Is this your daughter? Oh my, she’s absolutely beautiful! Yes I remember now, she comes often for breakfast! Let me offer you a piece of cake my darlings”. And then she came back with the cake, pretending to know me very well. All of a sudden, she was the nicest person on Earth. Indeed, my mother had the potential to become a good client and I guess using me was the best way to ensure she would come back. She actually never came back, but I did. I was curious of how the waitress would treat me. Well, she never even bothered to come to my table to serve me. I waited for forty-five minutes and the café was not full at all.
The second incident took place in December. I was strolling in town with my mom, when she decided to take a look at the shoes in a very well known luxury department store. So we entered and climbed the stairs to the ladies’ department. There, a beautiful shirt caught my eyes and I just couldn’t resist: I tried it and decided that I was in love. As I finished paying at the cash desk, the saleswoman did not say thank you to me, nor goodbye. The woman had seen me trying the shirt, had taken my money, had given me the bag with the shirt inside, but she only said thank you and goodbye to my mother. She didn’t even look at me. I had just paid a shirt two hundred bucks and I did not deserve a smile.
The third and last incident is the one that upset me the most, because it was an intellectual denigration. The worst thing about the difference of treatment between adults and young people is the fact that the younger ones are not taken seriously intellectually- their opinion, their ideas, their disapproval, none of these matter because they do not “have experience”. I think the experience argument in an intellectual discussion is a very poor defense if it is used improperly and with despise.
My mother had given me two tickets for a philosophy conference at a very distinguished literature society, where I went very often with her to listen to authors speak about their books. This time she could not come so I asked one of my friends to accompany me.
The author was a French, continental philosopher who came to speak about philosophy of art. The thing is, I did not agree with what he was saying, as it was contradicting almost everything I had been taught in my class of aesthetics at university. So at the end of the conference, I took my courage in both hands and asked him in an aside what he thought about my opinion on philosophy of art. As I told him that I studied in an analytic department of philosophy, he immediately answered: “Poor girl, I pity you. I hope you realize soon enough that everything you’ve learnt at university is mostly intellectual bullshit far from reality. I know that if you forget those complicated analytical systems, you’ll understand that what I said this afternoon was the truth. Maybe you’ll think about it in ten or fifteen years.”
I knew we would not agree on anything as he did not want to lose more time trying to explain his point of vue to a lost cause like me, and preferred thinking that I just couldn’t understand. So I thanked him for giving me a different opinion on the matter and left. But as I was walking away, a friend of my mom’s who had not recognized me came to me and said: “you know, I listened to everything. He was right, you are too young, you cannot possibly understand what art really is, if I was your age I would only have understood bits of this brilliant conference. You are too young, my darling, that is why you didn’t understand anything.”
What really bothered me was not the philosopher himself, because the only thing he did was confirm the unsolvable and eternal fight between continental and analytic philosophers. What bothered me was that the lady felt like it was OK to listen to the private conversation I had started with courage (if I had wanted to ask a question in front of everyone, I would have done it at the end of the conference by raising my hand), but also that she felt like her advice was asked and needed, and worse, that she thought it was a normal thing to say.
Once again, I left without saying anything.
A few hours later I told my mother the whole story and she told me:” you know very well that she would never have said that if I was with you. On the contrary, she would have congratulated you for being interested in such matters, and for having the courage to disapprove of what the philosopher said.” I answered:” That would have been dishonest, and I am glad, in a way, to know what she obviously really thinks.”
Why does it seem OK to disrespect young adults? Every person has the right to be taken seriously, no matter how young or old they are. The denigration of youth is a real society problem that needs to be solved, because it is part of the reason why young adults feel so insecure about their future. If young adults were given a real place in society, then they would feel like they are needed and trusted by the older generation.
Have you ever been in a similar situation? How have you reacted to it?
I would be glad to hear about your experience.
PS: I beg you, never lose your self-confidence or faith in future over a bunch of disrespectful people. There are a lot of adults that believe in our generation, and we must fight for them- and for ourselves.
With love, The Dilettante