Our young people deserve respect

"Young people today, they’ve got no idea. Not like in our day."

How often have you heard that, usually from a disgruntled older person who thinks the younger generation have it all served up on a plate for them?

It is not true of course. In fact, it is far from the truth. Young New Zealanders, and youngsters across the world, have plenty to worry about and try to deal with in the years ahead.

The struggles which face them will be quite different to the trials and tribulations endured by the post-war and baby boomer generations of people now aged from about 60 to their mid-90s.

Wars, pandemics, financial crises — these all, to differing degrees, have afflicted and are afflicting those at both ends of the age cohort.

But while western society and rampant consumerism may now — with the exception of home ownership — offer generally more comfortable lifestyles to its more juvenile members than some of their elders ever dreamt of, the new challenges for the decades ahead are not for the fainthearted.

The world is becoming a darker place. The shadow of random violence and terrorism now creeps into all corners of the planet. Nobody is immune from it.

Despite myriad calls for inclusivity and progress in accepting diversity, attitudes ironically seem to be hardening. Having the wrong opinion, or even seeing both sides of an argument or accepting its various nuances, can lead to violent and drastic consequences.

Instant communications around the world, courtesy of incredible technology and social media, are fuelling an increase in disinformation and conspiracy theories, and generating widespread distrust for scientists, politicians and journalists.

As well as this war on the truth and the rise of a pervasive nastiness and more overt anger and bullying, we can’t forget the state of the Earth itself. Will humanity even survive two or three centuries from now as global temperatures continue rocketing, as we carry on polluting and exploiting the planet, as the world’s animals and plants keep dying out?

Two news stories in recent days highlight how nasty things are getting.

Pupils and teachers at Dunedin’s Bayfield High School had a frightening experience on Tuesday when the school went into lockdown following an emailed threat.

School lockdowns are not especially new, but they are very much a product of the past decade or so.

Their existence is a reflection of the awful toll from mass shootings at schools in the United States.

Lockdown drills are now common practice in New Zealand schools. While these can be scary for pupils, it is important they are prepared in case the worst happens.

But the sheer fact they should even be necessary, particularly in our part of the world, is alarming, and shows a kind of malign progress spurred by overseas events which is nothing to be proud of at all.

This is one thing our children and grandchildren are having to bear which we never had to. The only drills which plagued the schooling of some of our older folk were the occasional fire drill and the visit to the school dental nurse.

Fortunately, the threat at Bayfield High didn’t come to anything, other than leaving pupils and parents rattled.

Meanwhile, the Labour Party candidate for Waitaki, 19-year-old Ethan Reille, has revealed the abhorrent and threatening behaviour he had to contend with during the election campaign.

At an A&P show in Fairlie, he was told by a member of the public they wished him and former prime minister Jacinda Ardern were dead. The person then spat on him.

He was also subject to vituperative comments online, death threats and had a swastika painted over his image.

Mr Reille says it has not put him off politics. But the experience has understandably left him upset and shaken.

Those behind such abuse are beyond contempt and clearly deficient, suffering from a lack of empathy and humanity. Such behaviour towards a young person wanting to do their bit for their generation is disgraceful.

Young people face challenges their elders never dreamt of.

They are our future.

They must be treated with respect.