Youth Is NOT Wasted on the Young

There is hope. In a society where labels are assigned to dismiss a person’s perspective, where rhetoric is habit, respectful debate is a challenge and the divide appears to be growing, there is still hope.

I know this because I have experienced it. The younger generation is living more and more based on content of character, as it should be. For example, my daughter took a week-long sailing class for beginners. (When I was nine, all we did during the summer was work and play in the sand pile! But that’s another story … ) When asked about her partner for the day, my daughter mentioned her sailing partner’s name, described the girl’s clothes and what they did throughout the day. But at no time did she mention she was African-American.

There is hope.

Leave it to the younger generation to remind us that we should be measuring people on their actions, not their ancestry. In a society where labels are assigned to dismiss a person’s perspective, or pigeonhole their opinion, we do not take into account the nuance, the multiple experiences that comprise each unique individual. Life is more complicated than a single label. People are more complicated than a single label.

Last month’s film festival brought several films that may not play for long at the local cineplex, but nonetheless struck a chord with me. After watching the opening night movie “RBG,” a documentary on Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, I was struck by her remarkably humble approach to life. Her mantra seemed to be along the lines of “When there is injustice, rather than get angry, get busy and figure out how to fix it.” Sound advice, no matter what your political leanings are.

How many times have you walked away in anger because your opinion wasn’t heard at work? How many times have you complained to your circle of friends or family about poor planning, or a bad process at your child’s school, at your church, or at your local municipality? Did you get angry? Did you do anything to fix it? Did you get involved?

What are you doing to train the next generation? You’ve heard the statistic: 10,000 people are reaching age 65 every day for the next 20 years. After that generation, we encounter the smaller generations of X and Y. Then another boom: the millennial generation, which rivals the scale of baby boomers. With the lowest unemployment numbers in a long time, many employers are – and will continue to be – challenged to find help.

A typical response when asked about the prospective of hiring millennials is, “The younger generation doesn’t know how to work.” Really? Are you sure?

A famous person once said, “The children now love luxury. They have bad manners, contempt for authority; they show disrespect for elders and love chatter in place of exercise.” The famous person? Socrates, who was born around 470 BC. The same thing was said about flappers in the 1920s, the Beatles and Rolling Stones in the 1960s, the flower generation in the late 1960s and early 1970s, and on and on. Many today are repeating that sentiment, that the younger generation doesn’t work, they are lazy, they are crass, they don’t care. I see it more as a natural progression. The older generation needs to impart their wisdom to the younger generation and today’s youth need to pay attention to the worst parts of history so they are not doomed to repeat them.

Oh, and the Traverse City Film Festival’s closing film? It was called “Burden,” based on a true story about a Ku Klux Klansman leaving the clan in the late 1990s. One theme throughout the movie was violence will only bring more violence. Without love, there is no hope. There is no room for a “one size fits all” label.

This month is the TCBN’s 40Under40 issue. I’m emboldened by another generation improving their community through action. Those willing to raise their hand, stand up, and take action versus complaining angrily on the sideline. My hope is that engaged interaction will weave itself throughout to create a strong fabric for future generations to embroider their mark. There is hope. Now go get involved and respectfully stand up for a better community!

Tonya Wildfong is communications director at Team Elmer’s. A University of Michigan graduate and Track & Field Big Ten Championship teammate, Tonya currently serves on Impact 100 Traverse City and the Chemical Bank Community Board. She authored the children’s book, “Bee in the Barn” and still likes to play in the sandbox with her remarkable husband and two entertaining children. Questions or comments, please contact