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Grandfather Knows Best This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine.

“Sugar, you need to listen to Granddaddy. I've been around longer than you, and you need to trust that I know better than you.” This statement is how my grandfather ends most of our debates over issues of race, homosexuality, and the definitions of sexual promiscuity. In his gentle but firm manner, he claims that because he is older, his opinions are automatically more valid than mine, even if those opinions are at times discriminatory, narrow-minded, or based on stereotypes. Grandparents and parents across America feel the need to deliver such speeches to younger generations in an attempt to pass on what they consider to be much-needed wisdom – but I believe some values and attitudes are better left in the past. Those with age and experience have valuable life lessons to share, but they may also be passing on prejudices that can hinder progress.
It seems that the world has never changed as quickly as it has in the last hundred years. There has never been so much freedom and equality on the planet, yet it still seems not to be enough for my generation. Racism has been made illegal through legislation, but it remains in the hearts of many Americans. Those who lived through the Civil Rights Movement may still carry the beliefs and customs of the world before this great change. For them it is difficult to shake the ideas and prejudices they lived with as children – a way of life so bitter that it left marks on those who survived.
Inevitably, we still find racism in young people who have been influenced by their parents and grandparents. Nevertheless, my generation is making progress. We did not grow up in the grip of segregation; never in our lives has it been legal to discriminate according to skin color. Today we see more interracial couples than ever before, more biracial children, more social interaction and acceptance between races, and we elected and re-elected a biracial president. We are slowly but surely letting go of the bigotry of past generations in exchange for a society that is more colorblind.
Another issue that is viewed in vastly different ways by different generations in the U.S. is homosexuality. A recent poll taken by Princeton Survey Research Associates revealed that 51 percent of seniors oppose gay marriage, while 73 percent of those ages 18 to 29 support it. The reasons for this divide are many. For some members of the older generations they simply have never known anyone who is openly gay, which makes it harder for them to see homosexuals as individuals. Many seniors view homosexuals as a threat to traditional values, rather than a group of people struggling for equality. Conversely, the youth of today grew up alongside friends and family members who have bravely opened up about their sexual orientation. Sympathy bred from those close connections has produced a liberal generation that ­empathizes with that struggle for ­acceptance.
Wars and genocides have been carried out in the name of religious beliefs throughout history. Religion is a very powerful social institution, but some believe it is on the decline in America today, that the younger generations have lost their faith, if they ever had any. The truth is, religion is not disappearing; it is changing into something that older generations may not recognize.
The rise of the non-denominational church indicates that America's youth are not becoming atheists, as many fear, but rather are embracing less organized religious structures. Some youth today believe traditional religious institutions are hypocritical, judgmental, and intolerant, especially in their views of homosexuals, minorities, pregnant teens, ex-convicts, and outsiders in general. By not identifying as Christians, Protestants, Jews, or Catholics, young people can explore their faith without the possible restrictions of these labels.
Politics also has its share of generational divides. Americans who are unemployed, unmarried, or less educated are less likely to vote, and most young people fit in one or more of these categories. However, when they do vote, they tend to be interested in certain issues, like the minimum wage, marriage rights, and equality. By contrast, issues like Social Security and health care tend to drive elders to the polls. These divides are understandable; of course retirees are concerned with topics that directly affect them, while youth have strong opinions about how much they are being paid and who they are allowed to marry.
Although our generations may be divided about social change and traditional values, my grandfather and I can still find some areas of common ground. This usually begins with me admitting that, in some cases, “Grandfather knows best.” And for his part, he sometimes agrees that today's world is much different from the one he grew up in, and perhaps the society I have to navigate has taught me things he will never know. Although this may be as close to a compromise as we get, it's something.
The ྖs kids, as we are often called, are at times reckless and indifferent to serious topics. This is why we must always respect the opinions of those who came before us. We must let our parents
and grandparents guide us toward being more ­responsible, and then we can put our ideals into ­action. There can be no doubt that our youthful ­perspective must win the day, because this new world requires a different way of thinking from past generations. After all, one generation could not survive without the other, and so we hope for compromise, but for now we must agree to disagree.

This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.




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