Youth is Wasted on the Young?

I’ve heard three times this week someone say, “Youth is wasted on the young.” I’ve never understood this statement when it’s uttered out of scorn.  Sometimes I think the translation of it would be: “If I could, I would rob the young of their youth,” in which case it springs from jealousy. But how can anyone know the wonders of youth without first having been youthful, without having been ignorant for a while of the distinction between feeling young and feeling old, or really just feeling older? It makes perfect sense to feel from time to time that youth is wasted on those who have it, but to repeat the phrase as a mantra, as some universal truth? Really?

If I ever come to believe that youth is wasted on the young, then the only rational conclusion would be that my youth was wasted on me. Because it would mean that I begrudge those who have it. It would mean that I’ve failed to see that good things come of having been young: certain childish appreciations you never lose, fascination for simple things, a love of life that flows out of unreason rather than originating in calculations of cost and benefit. What is the value of a soap bubble? That it floats. That it reflects a rainbow. And a blade of grass? What does it do for me? It glows green, it seeks out the sun, and it will do this 100 times out of 100. What more do I need?

I don’t think we lose these insights gleaned when we were kids. We just wish we could experience them again for the first time, when we lacked context and didn’t know how unusual they were, before we understood that we were supposed to deconstruct everything, even what is indivisible and perfect as it is.

Yeah, well, I’m not that old, right? Sure, but at some point you do become aware of the process. Which doesn’t mean I know much about it.

*This is a re-post of something I wrote as a note on Facebook.

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About atomsofthought
Teacher. Traveler. Writer. Reader.

9 Responses to Youth is Wasted on the Young?

  1. skippingstones says:

    LOL! Ah Nick, how I adore you and your blog. (Truly, not condescendingly.)

    I have said it – and felt it – a few times myself. I would agree with you about the begrudging thing if the same person said this three times in the same week.

    “I don’t think we lose these insights gleaned when we were kids.”

    I think that is the whole point of the saying. If you remember, it was used in the movie It’s A Wonderful Life. The man is watching as a young Jimmie Steward doesn’t seize the moment and go in for the kiss. And yes, it does have a bit to do with jealousy.

    It’s kind of like saying, “I wish I knew then what I know now.” How would your life be different if, when you still had the vitality of youth, you also had the wisdom, courage, confidence and knowledge that you spend your youth acquiring? You wouldn’t hesitate. You’d kiss the girl.

    It’s actually on my blog (Just Another Day At Work). And it’s true that I thought it was a load of manure. When I was younger. I’m not terribly older than you, but I have felt that jealousy from time to time. It would be nice to have better knees and a younger back, and perhaps a younger person’s view of the world occasionally.

    I would never choose to go back, but I would choose to have a younger body. And I would choose to have more time and more possibilities before me. I know those are often perceptions and boxes that we put ourselves in, but that doesn’t change how it feels sometimes.

    When you are young, the world is opening before you like a flower opening up in the sun. As you get older, that flower starts to fade, and in some ways, it feels as though it has begun to close back in a little. When I was younger, I sometimes felt that feeling of a world of open possibilities before me. But in some cases, I lacked the courage, or the skill, or the knowledge I needed to take advantage of it. In some cases, I was too wrapped up in the moment to realize that the moment was passing me by so so quickly.

    Anyway, that’s my interpretation. I’m sure we’re both right, in different ways. As an aside, it seemed to me that you sounded rather annoyed, or perhaps a little angry. Maybe that’s just how I read it.

    • Haha, yes, I think we’re both right. It’s an old saying and it has meant many different things. I’m jealous all the time of youth. I have terrible knees and can do almost none of the things that brought me the greatest joy only a few years ago. I mourn that loss because I lost part of myself. But it does annoy me quite a bit when people say scornfully that youth is wasted on the young, as if the young are being young incorrectly or something and they should darned well know better how to be young, lol. Youth is what it is, and it’s hard to expect the young to fully understand the beauty of what they have when to gain such understanding requires time and aging and experiences and pain and all of these things we know so little of at an early age (when we become aware of them varies by person, of course, but at some point we all must be ignorant of just about all things, so it’s a phase we all go through). I could say infancy is wasted on infants because they can’t possibly appreciate what it means to know nothing and look upon a world of infinite posssibility and delightful mystery when they ACTUALLY know nothing.

      And I think not kissing the girl is itself part of youth, inexperience, naivete… It isn’t about wasting a moment; it’s about learning and discovering and realizing later, with experience, that you should have kissed the girl, and doing better when the next such opportunity presents itself. I think being wrapped up in the moment is also an almost defining feature of youth, and when I miss being young, that is precisely one aspect of youth that I long after… experiencing life without worrying about time thieving my best moments from me, being care free, experiencing life with purity. Purity and innocence are often equated or correlated; I think youth belongs with those words as well. Innocence will always look foolish to people who have lost it. Dostoyevsky wrote a whole novel about a pure, Christ-like figure, and he titled the book, “The Idiot,” by which he meant “fool,” and the main character indeed acts like a fool, though he is smart and perceptive. He acts innocent and pure and youthful, and throughout the novel other characters remark on how childlike, infantile (an even stronger word, and in our society a real insult) his behavior is. Through most of the novel the other characteers view him as pretty much useless, though he is the best among them.

      It’s just hard to have it both ways. To be repetitive, I get annoyed only when people begrudge others for things they have little control over, like passing through a phase in life during which they know almost nothing and after which they know a little more than almost nothing. The rate of change is different for all of us, but the phase, the process, is one we all go through at some point.

      In my career I’ve worked with thousands of kids of all ages. They aren’t wasting their youth, even (and often especially) when they screw up; they simply are young, and to a large extent, that is that.

      Thanks for the discussion 🙂 I think we do agree. I would love to have a healthier body, which means I would love to be younger. I’ll end on that. 🙂

      • skippingstones says:

        Kissing the girl – for the older man, I think he means that he would like to have that opportunity again, but with the inexperience well past him. It is a wonderful thing to be young and fresh in love, without the burden of past heartaches and disappointments to color the experience. But at the same time to have the guts to take the kiss – then you would have it all.

        At the same time, I’m now thinking of other arguments I could make that are quite different. Hmmm…damn me for still being awake and on this computer when you responded 🙂

        For the young man, you are right. The moment is not wasted, it is a stepping stone to the future.

        You’re right, we do agree. I find myself reading what you say and smiling and thinking, “yeah. Oh, that’s true, too.”

        Hey, Maybe infancy is wasted on an infant. Maybe infancy is for the parent, really.

        Separate Issue – You said you get annoyed when people say this Scornfully and when they “begrudge others for things they have little control over” Were you rather annoyed when you wrote the post? I’m only asking because I felt that you were writing in anger, and if that’s true, I’m trying to pinpoint how the anger came across. I’m trying to figure it out. It’s great to be able to put an emotion, a kind of passion into the writing, without having to say, “I’m so mad!” I don’t know how to do that.

        I don’t think it’s just your words, because what you said and how you said it is not off track for what I’ve heard from you before, in terms of personal philosophy and ideas (I don’t think). In other words, your words did not jar me or strike me as being “off” in any way. Your comment didn’t feel angry. Of course, maybe that’s the LOLs and the smileys.

        Help a girl out with some writing tips 🙂

        • hah! Yeah, I’m the same way. I can’t help but respond immediately. Your question about conveying angger without saying I’m angry is a really good one. For one thing, I know I get right to the point when I’m annoyed… but not only when I’m annoyed, so there has to be something else conveying the anger or annoyance too. I noticed in my response to your comment that I wrote in really long sentences and didn’t worry much over commas and the like. I know I do that when I’m trying to convey complexity and a bit of ignorance, when I want to say with my pacing that I’m not entirely sure what the answer is. I also (intentionally) said “I think” quite a bit in that response. That’s clearly bad for writing formal papers and essays, but for discussion, it’s important to me to remind the reader that I’m just expressing an opinion and that it’s only mine, and it may be wrong, and I’m not even sure how fully formed it is. So it’s back to that questioning tone I often inject into what I write.

          I’ll go back and read my original post tomorrow. I have an idea of what I do to sound angry, but I want to confirm it first. For now, I’m off to bed! Buenas noches 🙂

  2. I don’t read it as jealously so much as wistfulness and personal reflection. It is an unfortunate wording, however, that does “sound” almost hateful towards “the young.”

    I’d like to get rid of the saying, myself. Thanks for putting it out there! Maybe we can start a movement. 🙂

    • Oh, agreed. As with so many expressions, it depends on how it’s said. I guess I read it as jealousy when it’s said in a jealous way (which I believe is pretty forgiveable, depending on the extent of the jealousy), and as scorn when it’s said scornfully, and as contempt when it’s said contemptuously. I think the core saying is definitely meant to convey wistfulness. I’m wistful in that way too, and sure, I’m also jealous sometimes, but if I had a nickel for every time someone spoke of the young as stupid, and even used that exact expression in so speaking of them, I would be a rich man.

    • Elizabeth, I just re-read what I wrote and I realize now that I spouted off about the saying rather than the particular way it was being used that I disagreed with. Sorry about that. Oh the pitfalls of posting hastily just for the sake of posting something!

  3. AZZ says:

    Sht dude really?? The older I get the easier I realise it is to accept the ignorance of the young. I am still jealous of their crazier and crazier (is that the right spelling??) life however it is always a small pleasure to realise that moving forward we get to appreciate some of the best things in life…….like kanye west….full of sht but still…… some beautiful music non the less. I had my father say to me close to his death bed that he was a little jealous of my lifestyle and in my ignorance I thought I was right…..turns out (after more interrogation) he was more referring to the carefree lifestyle i was living….he was a little envious of my own craziness….pretty much what I’m saying is that while something might seem right to us right now, it could take a little more comprehension before we actually understand what is right and wrong. Please, have a think before you speak!!

    • Dear friend, when you say that “the older I get the easier I realise it is to accept the ignorance of the young,” you make EXACTLY the point I was trying to make. There is no point in begrduging the young for their youth. Thank you! I’m delighted that you agree with me.

      I’m jealous of young people all the time, but I don’t begrudge them their youth. There’s a difference between envying what they have and holding it against them for having it. Your point is central to mine: our ignorance (hopefully) decreases with age. The process is natural and unavoidable, which is why I emphasised that what bothers me is IF and WHEN people BEGRUDGE the young for being ignorant of things they haven’t had time to learn. And do you not think that the young know some things that we older people, as we’ve aged, have forgotten? That doesn’t make the young wiser; it only means that they enjoy a perspective that most of us lose over time.

      Have a good day.

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