Friday, November 23, 2012

Of shopping carts and cups of coffee

It seems I have a lot of adventures while walking to work.

Tuesday morning, I had taken my usual stop in to a local cafe to fill up my travel mug with hot coffee. This happens nearly every morning on my way in because the coffee is good and it has the double feature of waking me up and keeping me warm on a chilly morning. Not that you need to know why, of course. Lots of people like a coffee in the morning.

I walked my usual route until I got to the grocery store parking lot, where I typically cut through to get to the sidewalk. In front of me was a man pushing a pair of shopping carts back toward the parking lot. He stopped a few feet ahead of me, and I went to walk around him, when he started to shout something. Since I had my headphones on, I couldn't immediately hear him. I slid them off and asked him to repeat himself.

Perhaps that was my first mistake. I always assume that if people are talking to me, I should listen, because it's the polite thing to do and because I typically think they're talking to me for a good reason. Every time this has happened I have been proven otherwise, but I don't dare stop for fear I end up missing an emergency and someone dies or something because I couldn't be bothered to make eye contact with a stranger.

"All young people are good for is walking down the streets with their cups of coffee, talking on their cell phones and stealing shopping carts!" he shouted. I was a bit taken aback, and I didn't respond immediately. I wasn't sure if he was trying to make a point toward me specifically, as I had just taken a sip from my cup. Before I could formulate anything better to say, I came up with "Okay". "People like YOU!" he shouted again, throwing his hands up in disgust and walking off. Against my better judgment, I replied again, this time saying "Actually, I'm on my way to work. Have a nice day".

How dare he judge me like that? I thought as I stalked off. I know I should have let it slide. Clearly it wasn't intended to be a slight against me personally--he was just in a bad mood and I happened to be walking by at the time. I did take it personally, though. Not because he meant it against me, but because he would have said that to any person who looked "young".

I'm in my late twenties now, but I have a bit of a baby face, so I'm often mistaken for someone much younger. I feel that both my own generation and the next, the one people refer to as "today's kids", get far too much flack and not nearly enough credit. Generalism is rampant and it's a big problem. Society seems to want to paint us with labels enough as it is, and generalisation only brings us that much farther away from the truth. The truth is that regardless of what people may say about "kids" having "no respect", I have seen (and worked with) so many of these kids who not only have respect, but an incredible work ethic. I have been in many positions in the last four years of my life, among them supervisor and manager, and I have watched these  "kids" work harder than I have in some ways.

These labels are an excuse. Why do those kids steal shopping carts? Because that's just what young people do. Forget the fact that most young people do not steal shopping carts--this is a fact because if most young people did steal shopping carts, there would be virtually none left--and think that perhaps those that do are doing so for a reason. That reason may not be directly related to shopping carts in general. Think of that what you will.

This unfounded negative talk about "young people"--these broad, sweeping generalisations--fall under one very ugly word: ageism. It's not only annoying, it's wrong. Think about the "young person" you just accused of being lazy. Do you know them? Have you seen them work, or have you seen them hanging out with their friends on what is probably their free time? I know a number of high school students who juggle their every day school lives with a part time job and still manage to find time to spend with their friends, hanging out and doing whatever they please. Just because you happen to see them in that brief off moment, that doesn't mean it's what they're always doing. And what makes you so important that you feel you can judge someone based on what less than five minutes of their time is telling you?

Ageism goes both ways and there is certainly no debating that! I have merely been on the receiving end multiple times, so I'm speaking from my own perspective.

Perhaps all of this seems like common sense to you, but I see  it too often to know that it isn't common sense for everyone. I would urge you to please think before you start rapidly throwing about accusations based on something as silly as age. The person you're talking to is a human, too.

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