When I got involved in conservative politics at 23, one of the first things I noticed is how few people my age there were involved in the process, speaking up, or even bothering to have an opinion about most of the relevant political issues of the day. The liberalization and apathy of the youth was a central point in many of my first conversations, and I didn’t have the answers; but it has kept me thinking over the last several years. I’ve seen consistent patterns in how young people are treated, and how they behave toward the typically older conservative activists that drive them toward liberalism or establishment Republican politics. As someone who is both a conservative activist and generally considered young for politics, especially conservative politics, I think I have a unique perspective from either side to offer both the young seeking to make a conservative difference, and the older activist looking to bring youth into the fold.
Let’s start with some observations to lay a foundation of where we’re coming from.
Young people have less time, but more energy to accomplish things; their lives are geared toward doing–even education to them is something of an activity. Older people, especially those who are retired, have more time, have less energy and physical ability, and typically aim at knowing things. They’ll go to an event for the purpose of knowing more about something, or sharing some knowledge with others.
Young people are attracted to personalities and cause celebre. They seek approval and a sense of belonging to a movement, team, or institution. Many will get their sense of identity from these things, especially with so many coming from broken homes. Their ideas are more likely to be shaped by people they think they know and trust, and they can be incredibly loyal to those people– even, at times, to the point of irrationality. Older people focus on the issues, they’re confident and know what they believe, and they will work with those who believe the same. They’re loyal to ideas first, even to the point where they will reject good from someone who disagrees on another issue, or accept someone simply because they say all the right things and look as though they believe in the same issues.
Young people keep up with technology. They know how to access vast information through the internet, so they can gain at least a little knowledge about anything very quickly and communicate about it even faster. This also means they’re being bombarded with a constant stream of entertainment and messages, which tends to create cynical thinking. Older people are guided by experience and memory. They grew up in different times, where values were generally reinforced almost to the point that some ills of modern society are understood to be wrong without it having to be said. Some things are just right and wrong, which can be a detriment when explaining “why” to someone without that experience.
You can clearly see contrasting patterns here. However, you should also see that both groups provide necessary elements to a strong movement. It’s worth the inconveniences for both sides to work together because one without the other will lack the tools to accomplish conservative change. The differences must be understood and woven together because the cause is greater than ourselves.
So, there are a few things that older conservative activists can draw from this. What the younger generations need is a connection to the movement. It’s probably a good idea to cut them some slack at first if they don’t agree with or understand your positions on all the issues. Welcome them in and build relationships, rather than immediately lecture them about all of the things you think they should know before knowing a thing about them, or piling work for your pet causes onto them. They won’t listen if they don’t think you care. Much of the knowledge they need can come in time, since they are not as set in their ways. Treat them like equals in the conservative movement, and they’ll have a desire to learn from you. You might even learn something from them. Often, I sense that the older generation has a “wait your turn” attitude; or they’ll try to squash big aspirations of younger people with pessimism and jealousy. Remember that they are fueled by their dreams, and constant talk about what can’t be done is poisonous. Find out what causes are important to them, and channel their energy into productive action by supporting and encouraging it. Better they learn limitations by trying than accomplish less than what was possible because they weren’t supported.
Never, NEVER treat young people like they’re stupid, or play the age card on them. This is a killer. Respectfully disagree and argue if you feel the need; but as soon as you start in with “You’re too young to know–I’ve been doing this longer than you’ve been alive so shut up and listen, etc..”, you’ve cut them off. They aren’t your kids. It may be to some degree true that they don’t know a lot and have not experienced much; but they aren’t stupid, and you helped create this world for them. That attitude is a great way to make them feel like they aren’t part of the movement, and they’ll tune you out. It tears at the roots of unity with young people and is a great disservice to the future of conservatism.
To the young, I say: first, get involved in politics. The decisions made today have more consequences for you and your children than most people making them. Don’t wake up in your 50’s and 60’s having wasted time in apathy and ignorance. It’s a sad story repeated too often by older activists. Start by seeking truth and conservative principles from objective standards like the Bible and the Founding Fathers, then follow those who do the same. I’ve found that entering politics through the Republican Party is generally a bad idea if you haven’t first laid a foundation of values. Unprincipled, politically-minded types will gladly have you without principles (in fact, some seem to prefer you have none); but they vaccinate you against the values that matter and teach what’s politically expedient rather than what’s right or wrong. Choose those who may not be as “fun”, who may not be your type, or might seem like older, cranky people at first. Make the effort to tolerate them, challenge yourself, and build relationships where you can learn more about conservative principles than Republican politics. Don’t be afraid to attempt big, even crazy, things, even if some say they can’t be done. Be yourself without getting caught up in yourself, and don’t be afraid to fail. Find the issues that matter, and use your talents and energy to serve a bigger cause. Nothing saps your enthusiasm like fighting other people’s battles.
Hopefully, everyone can find a few attitudes and habits to work on that build cooperation between young and old for a more effective conservative movement.
This post originally appeared on Western Journalism – Equipping You With The Truth