Being a human being basically but that’s not really my point. Because nothing entitles you as such although it’s bullshit to say: You must earn respect. You can’t expect people to just respect you. Yeah I can actually. That is basic descent behavior. Humans should always be met with respect. If they turn out to be arseholes…then that’s another story.
I want to share a story with you. It’s not my story but it made me think. It’s from a British tv series called Skins about teenagers in Bristol (there was an American version as well but it was cancelled quite quickly). In their own way all of these teenagers are arseholes and makes bad decisions but hey, they are teenagers. That’s kinda their thing.
Tony has been hit by a bus. He was well fucked up and had to learn everything again. Writing. Speaking. Humor. How to be a brother, a friend, how to be Tony. Everything. Tony was a bit of a twat before but that’s besides the point. And also he was a subject to very questionable parenting so it’s not entirely his fault to be honest.
Now he’s broken. He’s awkward. He’s a bit slower than he used to be but getting better. And now he’s on a train to go to an intro day at a university. On the train he sits opposite a military looking dude with a massive scar on his face. And Tony looks at him, not in a mean or super disrespectful way but he looks. His social skills are messed up. And the man responds by bullying him, belittling him, even taking one of his sandwiches even though it’s quite clear that Tony is confused and meant no offense. He assumes that Tony is a rude boy with no respect, no life experience and no scars. Because Tony’s scars are invisible.
Now I get that it’s fucking annoying that people look at you when you have a disability or disfigurement. And I’m not necessarily objecting to telling Tony off, asking him not to look. You don’t even have to do it politely. I object to the assumption that young people have it easy. That they know nothing about life and therefore are not worth respecting as human beings. That they can be dismissed until they reached adulthood. I object to telling them: ‘You’ll wise up’ or scoffing at their problems and saying: ‘You should try worrying about a mortgage. You have it easy’. And this may be a bit controversial but I object to automatically assuming old people are entitled to respect simply because of their age. ‘He fought for our country’. ‘She paid taxes all her life’. That’s all good and well but if you act like a douchebag you are still a douchebag. Old age is not an excuse to belittle and dismiss younger people’s experiences. And frankly. You don’t know. That old man may have been a tax evader. He may have beaten his wife. Abandoned his kids. Old age does not mean you’re a good person. Your actions are all that matters. If you treat people like shit you are shit. And while young people actually can be excused to some extent for that because they are teenagers and are still a work in progress as an adult you should know better. And how do you expect kids to learn how to treat others with respect if you show them none?
This is why I keep reading YA and watching shows about teens. I never want to forget what being young is like. Not because I’m afraid of growing old. Fuck no. I wouldn’t be 16 again if you paid me a million dollars. Because I don’t want to ever say to kids: ‘You don’t know what problems are’ or ‘That’s not love. You’re only a teenager’. I never want to forget how having your heart broken can feel like your world is collapsing. Or how it feels when you betray your best friend or they betray you. How your body is a raging soup of hormones and mood swings. Growing up and leaving the stage of childhood is no excuse to become a condescending arsehole.
I made this about age but you can switch old and young with white and coloured. Or cis and LGBT+. Because the same applies there. Not having experienced racism, micro aggressions or hate speech does not mean it doesn’t exist or having experienced it and not being that bothered by it does not mean others aren’t. And I don’t want to belittle any of those experiences as well. That’s why I try to read books by POC and LGBT+ authors and about them. I find it my responsibility as a adult to never forget what’s it’s like to be a kid and a teenager. I find it my responsibility as a cis white woman to educate myself on racism and discrimination. Support where I can, keeping my mouth shut and taking a seat when it’s not about me. And first and foremost never to belittle other people’s experiences.