|But we are better educated and more
aware of wrongdoing than they were at our age, which is in part a tribute
to them, and we've got some thoughts that ought to be communicated and
A lot of people have the mistaken idea that young
people want everything done just their way. That's just not true. What
students do want is the opportunity to be listened to, the right to participate.
That's why it's so urgent for my parents' generation to treat young people
as intelligent and valuable members of our society, whether in the home
or on the college campus, or in a governmental agency.
I might add that older people do a great deal
of damage when they ridicule students who are merely exercising their right
of dissent or peaceful protest. We don't have to agree on everything, and
we shouldn't. But we ought to be listening to one another, and encouraging
a diversity of viewpoints. As Henry Steele Commager put it, it is not ideas
that are subversive, it is the lack of ideas.
I would hope that if the war continues and the
skies become more polluted, that more adults might join the students in
their constructive dissent. But mostly we can heal the divisiveness in
our society by mutual toleration. One of my favorite philosophers, Hillel,
wrote that we should not judge our neighbor until we are standing in his
place. I think that's worthwhile guidance for young and old alike.
UDALL: I suppose, too, that differing life
styles add to the problem. As I travel around Southern Arizona, talking
to all kinds of people, I find that many of them have no sympathy for the
ideas and reforms suggested by the young, simply because they say that
it's hard to believe that young people are idealistic or serious when they
insist on trying to shock older people. They look at young people's long
hair, different styles of dress, use of language. And they wonder if all
these things aren't better indications of young people's attitudes toward
society than all their demands for improvement. What would your answer
First off, let me say that in a certain sense these
cultural aspects such as hair and clothes and drugs have something in common
with the political aspects in that they are all part of a search for something
different, something better. Yet I don't believe that you can point to
any one thing and say that it is an indication of how youth feels. Anytime
you classify youth as one homogeneous group that thinks, acts, and reacts
in one defined pattern, you will run into trouble. "Youth" is as diversified
as any other group of people. I think that adults make a false assumption
that long hair and unconventional dress are designed to shock older people.
You talked about arrogance earlier; there is nothing more arrogant to me
than someone who discriminates against other persons because of the length
of their hair or style of dress. You just can't say that such and such
a group has long hair but believes in the system, or such and such a group
has short hair and hates radicals. Just because a kid smokes marijuana
doesn't mean that he is a revolutionary. But I do believe that there is
a growing alienation between the young student and adults. Whether his
reasons are just or unjust isn't the point. What is important is that a
growing number of students are becoming totally dissatisfied with the entire
social and political functions of this society. They are looking for something
new, they are experimenting with new modes of life. The hair, the clothes,
they are all part of the investigation.
I agree with your cautionary note. I don't think
it is right to say that all young people dress the way they do, or act
the way they do, to shock older people. Older people don't wear crew-cuts
to shock me.
|Let's look at it in another way. We
are all victims of generalizations -- generalizations gone wild. One young
person may have long hair because he just likes it -- and he may be more
conservative politically than his parents. Another may want to shock. Still
another may want to identify himself with something changing. I understand
one congressman discovered that during 90% of the world's history, men
have worn their hair long. Maybe the youth are the traditionalists.
But if long hair is a way of identifying with
change today, I see nothing wrong with this. Symbolic identifications of
this kind can be divisive, of course, but I don't think they have
So, personally, you may not like the way long
hair looks. Fine, I don't like the color purple. We have differences of
taste. That shouldn't make us enemies.
I resent the fact that the American flag has become
a symbol of division. Just because a man carries an American flag does
not mean that he is a good American. Just because a person does not agree
with certain things going on in this country does not mean he is less of
a citizen. If patriotism is not questioning, is not always seeking betterment,
is not striving to make those constitutional ideals reality -- then I wonder
what patriotism is. Right now I have one country and I would have to agree
with a man who said, "I'm very critical of the United States, but get me
outside the country and all of a sudden I can't bring myself to say one
nasty thing about it. You can't renounce something unless you have something
But in America today I am concerned by the utter
hate, distrust, lack of the most basic civilities on all sides. Foul language,
many young people feel, is far more honest than the language of the deceptive
diplomat who may say "equality" -- and mean the exact opposite. In the
long run no one can communicate because such language alienates people.
We are dealing with people, not pigs, not bums.
I cannot ask anyone to abandon symbols, but I can ask him to abandon the
symbols which convey inaccurate messages -- like "I'm somehow better than
you are." Use of symbols in this manner is a substitute for communication
Contrary to all opinion expressed, most of the
young are just people and commonly regard themselves as such. I assume
my elders like to think of themselves as people. With that common understanding,
perhaps, we can figure out how my children and your grandchildren are going
to exist as people.
UDALL: On that note I think we're going to
have to terminate our conversation. I thank you all for your frankness
and candor. If we haven't agreed on everything, at least I think we have
shown that members of your generation and mine can sit down and exchange
* * * * *
That's how it went. As always, I'll appreciate
having your reactions and comments.