Don't Blame the Cup

“Youth are socially inept.”

“The youth aren’t cutting it.”

“Our youth feel so entitled; they’re always saying, ‘What’s in it for me?’”

Yesterday I went to a forum discussing youth employment. The employment rate for people 16 years old through their 20s is way down. This forum wanted to ask the question why?

There were many different perspectives and people from different sectors which made it great. There was a place of convergence for many though; an underlying idea that our youth are not employable, leading to the comments that I quote above that emerged from yesterday’s conversation.

A question was posed, “If our youth are not finding or keeping employment, ultimately isn’t that their problem and their responsibility?” That spurred another line of questioning; “Whose fault is it?” or “Who is to blame?” Is it the youth? Is it their parents? Is it the education system? Is it corporate greed?

The interesting thing to me was that these questions began right after a presenter was discussing homeless youth; youth living in temporary housing, without a fixed address, who can’t find or maintain a job.

I must admit, I became a little heated. My colleague who had just presented had chosen to remain silent through much of this discussion so as not to lose her cool. I waited, knowing that I was next on the agenda and had a chance to speak. If memory serves me well I think I said something like this;

It is an interesting question; “Whose fault is it?” Are the youth to blame, their parents or the employers? We could discuss that for a while, but ultimately it doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter who is to blame because the reality is we have many, many youth who don’t have the self-esteem or self-confidence to be successful at finding or holding a job. No matter whose fault it is, that’s the situation.

In the case of homeless youth specifically, the vast majority will be coming from experiences of abuse. Many other youth have grown up in families dealing with poverty. But even across all socio-economic barriers we find kids who are not connected and don’t have good relationships in their lives.

There was a time when people’s job was their purpose. You work, that’s what you do. This is not the case anymore. What does a kid who has been abused and has no solid relationships in their life care about a job? Why are they going to give a crap that somebody thinks that they need to work, and earn a living, and be a productive, contributing member of society?

What I forgot to say was that the rates of stress and depression among our students are astronomical. What I didn’t say was that we have other mental health issues, addiction & suicide that are youth or their friends are coping with. What I forgot to say was that we have so many youth that, for good reason, don’t trust any authority figure, and how is that going to work with a boss?

I did however share that if we feel our youth population has a sense of entitlement it is because we have given it to them. The fruit that we see today is from the seeds that we planted. The Canadian dream, by and large is still focused on wealth, fame, fortune and success, and we have NEVER valued the means by which those are achieved as much as the ends themselves. So if a kid sells drugs or steals or feels like they don’t need to earn a future of wealth and extravagance it is because they have learned that attitude. It is because WE ARE THE SAME. “What is the difference,” I asked, “between a kid feeling like they should be able to wear all the newest slickest shoes and clothes and the people living way above their means in a nice house in Oakville with a mortgage they can barely afford and their credit cards maxed out?”

The fact is that youth haven’t changed.

I see no hope for the future of our people if they are dependent on the frivolous youth of today, for certainly all youth are reckless beyond words. When I was a boy, we were taught to be discrete and respectful of elders, but the present youth are exceedingly wise (know-it-alls) and impatient of restraint.

That quote was said by a guy named Hesiod around 700 BC. The following quote is most commonly attributed to Socrates or Plato;

Our youth now love luxury. They have bad manners, contempt for authority; they show disrespect for their elders and love chatter in place of exercise; they no longer rise when elders enter the room; they contradict their parents, chatter before company; gobble up their food and tyrannize their teachers.

As you can see, the same arguments and complaints have been made of the youth for thousands of years.

The greatest boss I ever had as a youth was a guy name Mark who owned and still owns a landscaping company. One of the main reasons for this was that Mark sees his role as a business owner as a double role. He wants to provide people with excellent service and make a profit, sure, but he also has a commitment to invest in the lives of the young people who come to work for him. He teaches us how to do the job but at the same time teaches us about the value of work and the pride in putting in a great effort and getting a great result. Mark isn't just an employer, he is a mentor, and for many of us, that's exactly what we need.

Perhaps Mark’s most excellent trait is being intentionally foolish. I remember the summer when he re-hired a guy who had stolen a truck from him (if I’m remembering the story right). Some of my fellow workers grumbled about this decision. They didn’t particularly like this guy, his work ethic and certainly couldn’t understand why Mark would hire someone back who screwed him over. I learned a lot from Mark in that moment. It wasn’t just about a job or profit; he gave this guy another chance on purpose. He wanted to invest in the youth who otherwise might just get called inept or entitled or be told, “You’re just not cutting it!”

We all need people in our lives who are going to invest in us; who are going to believe in us. We need people who are going to give us a second chance, and maybe a third, or fourth, or fifth.

It is no surprise to me that someone who thinks youth are socially inept has that expectation met time and time again. Perhaps it is our sense of entitlement that makes us feel like we can stand back and just see someone deliver great results no matter where they are coming from, what pain they’ve endured, what brokenness is residing in their hearts. The equation that we are more likely to see is that you only get out of someone what has been invested and planted in them, through relationship and time. It’s like we grab a cup out of the cupboard and when there is no refreshing water in it to drink, we blame the cup! We have to put something in if we want to get something out.

Why am I writing a blog about youth on a blog site for youth? You guys know better than anyone the uphill battle you are fighting when words like ‘inept’ are the expectation society has of you. But one thing was true in the comments I heard yesterday, it is your problem. A teacher who doesn’t invest in you doesn’t get the failing grade, you do. A boss/corporation who won’t invest in our youth won’t miss out on the job, you will. A parent who isn’t sharing their belief in you day in and day out probably has their own scars, but the damage done by their words and lack of care is yours to carry.

We have the opportunity to change things! We can provide the love, support and belief to one another that we might not be finding anywhere else. Fill each other up! It will also be a huge key to find the adults in our life who will invest in us with love, support and mentoring. Perhaps we can even inspire our local employers to be more like Mark. We must have hope that things will not always be about the bottom line (profit) and that our society will come to understand that investing in people is a far richer endeavour. I also, want to encourage you to have the courage, when you fail, to try again and challenge the adults in your life to not give up on you!

You are not inept, you are incredible!

You more than just ‘cut it’, you are amazing!

Having adults complain about ‘our youth’ is nothing new; thousands of years of blaming the cup. I suppose too many of us still find that easier than turning on the tap.

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