Don’t listen to anyone over 30? | Moment's Notice

By Maria A. Montalvo | Oct 29, 2018

“Don’t trust anyone over 30,” is a saying inaccurately attributed to a wide range of celebrities from the 1960s – community leaders like Abbie Hoffman, multiple members of the Beatles, random movie characters, etc.

It is a phrase most of us may have scoffed at but were quietly fond of prior to turning 30, but I learned it does not mean what we thought it meant.

In 1964, Jack Weinberg, a 24-year-old graduate student and free-speech activist, was arrested by Berkeley campus police, and the large-scale demonstration that followed cemented the free-speech movement.

During an interview with the San Francisco Chronicle, Weinberg uttered those fateful words to dispute the charge that young activists were being directed by foreign communists:

“Nobody is pulling our strings,” he said of any organized group of outsiders or adults influencing their actions. “We don’t trust anybody over 30.”

He was attempting to prove independence of thought, not making a blanket judgment of older generations.

Last weekend, I had the distinct pleasure of spending the weekend with three dozen 20-somethings—alumni of the scholarship organization I work with.

Every time we organize these events, the alumni take full advantage of opportunities to grow personally and professionally, and are genuinely committed to helping each other to succeed. They are open to what we impart to them, and what was less expected but perhaps more impactful, was what we oldsters (i.e., various ages beyond 30) learned from them.

Young people these days, at least compared to my youth, spend more time considering how decisions influence happiness, satisfaction and health, as well as their larger community and other humans.

On topics ranging from finances to goal setting to aspirations, they demonstrate an understanding that the goal itself cannot be immutable because the world is changing around them every day.

The American Dream will not happen the same way in 2020 – the dwindling return on investment to education, work, and sacrifice is proven by study after study– so they must approach their futures differently.

They have determined that standard definitions of success or happiness can be shallow, and self-actualization is potentially not the pinnacle of the hierarchy of needs (food/shelter, safety, love, esteem, self-actualization) but all concurrent priorities.

To me, it was sometimes confounding, and often counterintuitive, to listen to their discussions of life decisions (career, marriage, home purchases, travel, and charitable giving) within the context of a future state.

I felt they were skipping over the steps on the path to get there. My lens, though, came from a reinforced belief to achieve traditional means of success first and consider the rest later.

It finally sunk in that they are not sidestepping as much as walking more purposefully than I would have.

We all strive to find our own way, and as years pass we naturally transform what we saw as a successful path into predetermined guidance for those who come behind us, but that does not work.

Generational theorists might say these 20-somethings are embodying the millennial outlook and rebelling against the dominant generation’s perspectives on individualism and achievement.

On the other hand, economists believe that the younger generations seem to already know what statistics prove – that the modern economy will thrive off of volatility, and the ability to be flexible will determine how the next generations fare.

In 1990, when Weinberg turned 50, he said, "My one sentence in history turns out to be something I said off the top of my head, which became completely distorted and misunderstood. But I've become more accepting of fate as I get older.”

We do learn as we age, and we can offer much to the young people we care about, but teaching requires context.

We oldsters are not necessarily wrong, but we have to listen and learn first in order to make any sense.

 

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