Monday, December 3, 2007

The Affected Youth

I'm reminded, reading The Bell Jar, of the subsection of society that has remained the subject of media for hundreds (if not thousands) of years, the subsection that I most find myself relating to in a surprisingly real, honest way. This group includes literary figures such as Telemachus, Steven Dedalus, or Holden Cauffield. In movies the best example would be James Dean, though there are examples in many younger actors and actresses. A more modern example might be Leonardo DiCaprio. This group is marked by people, usually younger people, who hit a point in their life where they become disillusioned with the norms of the environment around them. When the people begin to crush in and the opinions of the masses grate just too much and these people reach a point where they have to break away. When they embrace the different and the difficult and the 'anti-social' in order to challenge what they believe and hopefully find their place.

This group has been typically labelled the disaffected youth, but I dislike that term on principle and would recommend another one. Disaffected is such a negative term, with such negative connotations (especially in today's overly positive, sugar-coated social schema) that it calls to mind a bunch of burnt out hippie slackers doing drugs and getting into trouble and whatnot. That kind of image misses the point. That kind of image is more damaging to that group than it needs to be. So I propose another name.

Affected Youth are just that. They are those who have been affected. Disaffected, by definition, is an aggressive, divisionary term. It creates the disaffected youth as a group who has lost faith in, or trust of, authority figures. And while that is certainly a hallmark of someone in this subgroup, it isn't everything.

The Affected Youth are not those who have simply lost truth or faith in authority figures. If that was the case, the common 'disaffected' label would be applied to anyone who goes against the establishment group. Yet that doesn't seem to be the case. Instead, let's look at where the disaffected youth label is applied most commonly, and see why that application is faulty but does refer to a specific social group.

Most disaffected are youths. They are typically highly intelligent, though perhaps not formally schooled. They typically came from traditional upbringings, though this isn't always the case. They typically are introverted types, described as 'serious' or 'mature for their age' by those around them. They typically feel alienated by their peers. They typically remain skeptical of adults but prefer their company to that of people their own age. They typically like to press buttons and boundaries. They ask lots of unanswerable questions.

I'm sure everyone knows the type. It doesn't just have to be youths. 'Youth' implies an age bracket, but that's not the case here. I'm using youth as in 'one who is young' with young being a metaphysical mindset of youth where minds are uncertain and impressions are made more quickly and both belief systems and mindset are in a state of flux.

And that's really the key here. The affected youth isn't alienated because of some sort of rebellious impulse. There are rebels and there are affected youths and sometimes they're both in a person but they don't have to be. But what makes an affected youth so alienated is a questioning nature that is finally coming into a place of power. It isn't a typical counterculture 'let's blow of the man' mentality, but it is a mind that has come to feel some sort of wrongness about the status quo and is now looking for the meaning behind it and their place in it.

And that's why I choose affected. There are people in life who never hit the affected youth stage. It doesn't always have to be angsty, semi-depressed detachment from all that is 'normal'. It can be much healthier. But it does have to be a period of asking questions such as 'what is my place in the world?' and 'why do people believe _______?' and other questions. The Affected Youth is a person who sees the world as it is and is deeply affected by it. They feel a call to change something. A dissatisfaction with the status quo. And this is what drives them to slowly begin the process of determining what it is and what they can do and who they are that is different enough to make them the person to do it.

The people who don't ask those questions typically (not always, but typically) are those that end up just blindly supporting the status quo. Terms I've heard for them include 'normals,' 'old folks,' 'sheep people,' 'society at large,' and 'zombie-citizens.' They are usually marked by a closed-mindedness that borders or is willful ignorance, the inability to even consider questioning the status quo, a complacent discontentment with their lives and the world around them, and a general lethargy when it comes to any sort of pro-active life action.

What does this say about the affected? It means that they are the ones who are coming awake. The ones who see the world in a more critical way. The ones who at least think about changing their place in it. I believe that to blindly accept one's place in anything is the sign of a mind that is closed and dead. The affected youth might have their problems, and they might be prone to failure in their endeavors, but they do at least turn their minds to the question. Asking that question is what is most important. The development of the attitude of not accepting what's presented as 'true' and forging your own path is the way towards becoming a truly realized person with all the potential that comes with it.

I'm a card-carrying member of the Affected Youth. I'm proud of that fact. And I look towards a time when I can move past it into the place beyond (which I've stepped into and do step into from time to time) without losing the nature of the Affected Youth. Even the next step beyond, the Clay Existence, and the step beyond that, the Purposeful Life, can take from the questing, unaccepting nature of the Affected Youth. The Affected Youth is the enemy of dogma.
And as we all know, dogma becomes stagnation becomes death.


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