Those young people!


“Too many young people itch for what they want without scratching for it.”— attributed to Thomas Taylor, 1758-1835.

It’s easy to criticize a work that’s incomplete.

In 1848, when the Washington Monument was under construction, it was criticized for looking “like a chimney.”

More recently, the Vietnam Veterans Memorial (“a dark tombstone”), the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial (“too large”) and the World War II Memorial (a “visual intrusion on the National Mall”) were all criticized during their construction. Disagreement over an inscription originally included on the Martin Luther King Jr. monument resulted in the inscription’s removal, proving that in Washington, D.C., just because something is “set in stone” doesn’t mean it’s really set in stone.

So it is also with our young people, who are themselves an incomplete work. Throughout time, young people have been criticized by their elders.

“They think they know everything, and are always quite sure about it,” is not a new idea, as this quotation is attributed to Aristotle from the fourth century B.C.

“…they will be unworthy to hold their father’s places, and when they come into power as guardians, they will soon be found to fail…” was Plato’s lament.

The UK’s Daily Mail recently put it this way: “America’s millennials are a bunch of phone-addicted, selfie-obsessed, hashtagging, snapchatting, kale-munching, twerking, lazy, whining, ill-informed, politically correct, cossetted narcissists…” Really? Wow.

If you do just a little bit of research, you will discover that every generation has thought that the younger generation was too lazy, too irreverent and too self-absorbed. Maybe we should finally admit that these characteristics are universal teenager attributes, constant ever since the first teenagers whined that their curfew wasn’t fair.

Last month, I had the privilege to greet 40 high school students, selected by the state’s 17 electric cooperatives to travel to Washington, D.C., to represent Arkansas as part of the 2018 Electric Cooperative Youth Tour. This year, over 1,800 youths from 43 states had the chance to see those once-controversial, now-complete D.C. monuments, to meet with our elected representatives, and to learn about the formation and operation of our government.

These young people inspire me. Unlike the young people described in the Daily Mail quote, they are hardworking, respectful, well-spoken and educated, and they are looking for a way to give back, to serve and to make this country a better place for themselves and the generations to follow them. Many of them are already planning a life of public service, and the Youth Tour helped them cement that vision in their mind.

Behind them are thousands more, just as hardworking and dedicated to their causes, with technology skills most older folks envy. They probably don’t know how to work a slide rule or extract a square root manually, and they may not know how to balance their checkbook or write in cursive, but they can use social media to mobilize an army of friends to clean up a park more quickly than most old folks can look up a phone number in the Yellow Pages (which they’ve never heard of). They accept and easily engage with things that older folks still wonder over: drive-through coffee and instant two-way video communication are their baseline, with them since birth. They will be able to imagine, and then create, a future far better than us. I’m hopeful that their early exposure to our political system through events such as this Youth Tour, will also provide them with a better vision of government’s potential than we, the older generation, have delivered to them.

It’s easy to criticize a work that’s incomplete. Today’s young people are work in progress, full of hope and promise. Let’s give them the chance to show us the future.

Duane Highley is president and CEO of Arkansas Electric Cooperatives, Inc., (AECI) and Arkansas Electric Cooperative Corporation (AECC). AECI, a statewide service co-op, and AECC, a wholesale power supply co-op, are owned by Arkansas’ 17 local distribution co-ops, which provide retail electric service to more than 1 million members.