I’ve just been watching a news article about the pressure young people feel and the consequences of depression and self harming. What do we say to that?
“Get a grip.”
“You have no idea.”
“You want everything on a plate.”
You get the gist of this?
I know some people may relate to their own experiences and be very happy to have come through the dark wood of childhood and beyond relatively unscathed. Some have been less fortunate. But I believe these issues are real. They are real because of the pressure the young are under. Who do we blame? Here is an extract from “The Unicorn Balance.” It relates to an incident in a fantasy adventure following the fate of two young friends and their quest to banish evil from a distant kingdom. We can also relate it to the transition from childhood to adulthood and the realisation of the perils of life:
“Once they were used to the strength of the wind they found the run quite thrilling. Cookie looked across to Kate. Taking a little longer to adjust her stride, she had drifted over to the right. Between the ages of two years old and whenever, it is very difficult for anyone to run down a hill in a strong wind without beginning to giggle and squeal. As she ran Cookie was doing exactly this.
Half way down she noticed a dark shadow around her. The giggling stopped. She looked back across to Kate. Just slightly behind and above her was a huge black flying animal. Cookie realised that the shadow surrounding her indicated that she was being chased as well. The giggles turned to screams. Kate looked back over. Missing a slight dip in the hill they both tripped. The sheer force of their speed meant that they were rolling towards the solid wall of the building. They braced themselves. There was no collision. They had continued to roll through a low gap in the bottom of the wall. They came to a halt.”
What do the flying monsters represent? That very stark realisation that as you get older, things will be out to get you? You will begin to understand what sort of place your world is going to be. There will be pressures to conform. There will be pressures not to conform.
You will be chased and harried into making decisions which may not be to your benefit. People will want to use you. The pressure issue is indeed a dark shadow. It is a complex myriad of cause, effect, reaction and counter reaction. To actually unpick the fundamental elements from such a tangled web of issues is quite impossible. It’s like the beleaguered teacher getting hassle from two sets of parents. The children of these parents may have some ongoing differences which manifest themselves regularly in the playground. The teacher wasn’t there. How can they possibly extract the truth from two totally self-centred versions. Then, like a set of Chinese Whispers, the version that goes home with the child may be considerably disproportionate to reality. Each parent may also get another version from other children or adults who have learnt third-hand about it. Then at the end of the day the head walks into the classroom after her own ear bashings from said parents.
The things is, that no matter what is taught and controlled in the classroom, has little effect on the learning in the playground. The encouragement and cajolement of the family home has been traded for the merciless environment of playtime. The development of friendships and dislikes will build some form of pecking order between children. It is one of the first realities they may learn about life. The first shadow of the black flying thing if you like. In the book they’re called reets. It’s nothing to do with a Yorkshire exclamation however.
The following observations I now give have valid arguments for, against and somewhere in the middle. An element of the above-mentioned “get a grip” can be applied as we think about personal, parental or peer responsibility. If I were to strip down these pressures into some form of reasoned criteria, I would say:
Friends and peers.
Teachers (yes those evil little critters who make young people work;
“But to go to school in a summer morn,
Oh! it drives all joy away;
Under a cruel eye outworn
The little ones spend the day
In sighing and dismay.”
(William Blake’s The Schoolboy.)
Wealth (in its broadest term).
(I’m sure I’ve missed some other significant elements here!)
Now that’s a lot of interaction. Running through all of these are the twin arrows of image and ambition. We can also add pride onto the pile. And it’s not just the pride of the individual.
At some stage of our lives we have all been the subject of manipulation.
In fact if you imagine the deliberate and incidental machinations of the above categories, we are all being manipulated, all of the time.
In days of old, all classes of people felt the pressure to go to church. Now I’m not knocking the concept of collective worship or faith of any kind but this is just part of my observations. At church the illiterate poor were confronted with the images of the stain-glass windows.
Among the glorified icons of the christian faith, there were pictures of hell and damnation.
It was a plain pictorial warning to anyone who had thoughts of stepping out of line. It reminds me of that verse from a well known hymn:
“The rich man in his castle,
The poor man at his gate,
God made them high and lowly,
And ordered their estate.”
That verse tends not to be included these days because we know better. There lies another argument; we may believe in the equality of all but do we practise it?
Back to the pressures on the young. The old fashioned church idea is an example of blatant manipulation. Keep the working classes in their place. We won’t let them learn to read and write because they’ll start getting ideas.
But look at the images everyone is confronted with. Look at the adverts aimed at young people.
Some are so predatory they err on the side of sinister. Look at the attraction of the image and the clever use of the word “calorie”. That word is a powerful marketing tool. Will some people actually do anything sinister to persuade us to part with our money?
Before I start getting too involved with my meandering thoughts, I will finish with some more questions. It’s not a quiz. There maybe no definite answers but it is just food for thought. Isn’t food for thought the best fuel for the mind? (Answers on a postcard please.)
Did the older generations have equal amounts of pressure when they were young?
Do older people have the same pressures but are better at handling them?
Is this a sick symptom of the civilised (and uncivilised) world?
Where do the seven deadly sins fit in all of this?
Can these sins be a motivating factor for all of us?
Do people (like me) who have some form of disability feel the pressure more acutely?
Thank-you for reading