Facebook Post to a Young Man
(Editor's note: What follows is a post I had to write to a young man, a friend of my son Adam who friended me on Facebook last month. This kid has the seedier side of humanity pegged, the part about us being materialistic lemmings and automatons who cannot think for ourselves. Unfortunately, my young friend, who's barely out of his teens, thinks this defines Humanity in general and I'm trying to convince him that's only half the story, that there's another side to people that seems to deserve the perks and potential of being a human being, those of us who have a vested interest in actually making the world a better place to live in. I know this message of conciliation to a budding misanthrope is coming from an unlikely source but along with encroaching old age (allegedly) comes wisdom. And my wisdom, such as it is, tells me that not all is lost regardless of the Maya running out of calendars after this year. And I truly hate seeing the young so incurably cynical toward Mankind in the abstract when their adult lives have barely begun. So I'd like a show of hands: Did I give this lad sound advice or am I just blowing smoke up his ass?)
Ah... you're too young and beautiful to be so cynical and hateful toward a race of which you're largely ignorant (there are 7 billion of us, you know). When I was your age, I said to my correspondent, the poet XJ Kennedy, pretty much exactly the same thing: That I hated Humanity with a capital H. I was a misanthrope in the making and the much older XJ recoiled in horror. I, too, thought I'd had all the answers by dint of a high intellect and a "poetic sensibility" that made me infallibly sensitive to the ills, absurdities and injustices of the world. And, God knows, I still live with a lot of rage, hatred and cynicism but that, at least, is more focused than it was when I was your age. Now, I can identify the wellsprings of my rage and realize from whence it springs (My parents, the Navy, etc.). But hating humanity as a whole is just going to turn off a lot of people who don't even come close to fitting your definition of Humanity with a capital H being "lifeless materialistic lemmings." Sure, it's one thing to peg the human race for being what it is with its hype-driven "getting and spending (Wordsworth)" but another thing entirely to let that color your perception of people as a whole, including those who would otherwise probably want to have a relationship with you but are turned off by your poisonous hatred. Now, granted, this is coming from someone who can still wield a razor-sharp pen when the spirit moves me but my anger and erstwhile hatred is at least FOCUSED and I don't piss all over Mankind because one Republican said something colossally hateful and stupid. I've learned in my middle age to see the hope and potential in humankind, to have faith that we will, indeed, pull back from the precipice if and when we ever push ourselves to the edge of that metaphorical cliff. Basically, what I'm saying is to cut people some slack. This is the only race running the roost, the human race. And the sooner you learn to cut people some slack the easier and happier your life will become. There are many, many good people out there who can think for themselves and who would probably wish to have a stimulating relationship with you (like me). But the world will not change for you no matter (how) much you grouse about it. There are battles that can be won and some that cannot be. And only wisdom and experience will teach you to distinguish the two.