I am not a scary person; as much as I would like to pretend otherwise, no one is fooled. I have an affable face and there’s nothing I can do about it. Unless I’m riled, my demeanor around strangers tends toward the polite, friendly innocence of a youth “raised properly”. Which, to my intense irritation, leads to comments like “isn’t he sweet” or “what a nice young man” (I’m not as nice as I appear). Let me make it especially clear to all girls out there, no matter how old you are: calling any male above the age of thirteen “sweet”, “cute”, or any other demeaning, insulting adjective will instantly and categorically destroy any chance of even friendship with that person. Seriously, don’t do it.
Anyone who knows me well will be able to tell you that I often walk around with my face set in a tough, jaw-clenched squint. This is an attempt to counteract the “wouldn’t hurt a fly” vibes I seem to unconsciously emit. It doesn’t work. The best I can hope for is to look like a “nice”, “sweet”, “innocent” guy in a really, really, bad mood. Although for anyone remotely well acquainted with me the illusion (and illusion it is) soon wears off; if you saw me in the street you wouldn’t be nervously fondling your cars keys for self-protection. Or so I had thought.
Last Wednesday found me huddled under a small tree, trying my best to weather the torrent of water that seemed determined to seep through every tiny gap in my jacket. It was my lunch break (work-experience week) and I’d arranged to meet a friend of mine, an aspiring lawyer and science whiz, on the church lawn. He was late. Bored, I was staring about me for something to look at, when I spotted a church propaganda poster on a message board some 50 meters away. Curious- I’m not religious but I find Christianity fascinating – I wandered over to investigate.
As I neared the sign, my path crossed close in front of a middle-aged woman carrying her shopping home. Preoccupied with the rain and my destination, I didn’t even notice her until we almost collided. At our closest proximity I glanced up, and so did she. She started in surprise, and what I can only describe as terror clouded her face. It was over in an instant, yet I suspect that she thought I was going to attack her. But why?
We’ve already established my un-threatening persona. I was clothed respectably (my WE placement sported a formal dress code), the very vision of a responsible youth. Yet the moment I accidentally step into the path of a vulnerable adult, I’m a mugger, a yob, a thief…or god knows what else. That incident illustrated to me just how much the reputation of Britain’s youths has suffered in recent years. The ever-increasing gap between the growing-older generation and the changing younger one is becoming a real problem within society.
You only have to read the letter section of a newspaper to hear about the “disintegration of the moral fabric of society, due to the breakdown of the British family”. This seems to be a common explanation for the problem, although since, if that is the reason, it is incurable, I can’t understand why they bother speculating. The issue is not the cause, but the consequence. Knife murder, street crime, muggings, drug abuse and other activities synonymous with youth are only minor problems compared to the ripple effect they cause. The major reason for concern is the feeling, spreading quickly through the public (especially the older generations) that young people can no longer be understood.
The increasingly broad media coverage of extreme anti-social behavior is beginning to distance young people from the rest of society. The public can no longer understand the motives behind young people’s actions. For example, the systematic attacks on ambulances in Manchester really scared the public, because they cannot identify with the culprits. If a criminal murders to feed his drug addiction, society understands; it does not approve of or condone the action, but it realizes why the person did it. In a society where the young want for little, many citizens cannot understand why some youths rail against it in the way they do. It seems illogical, against human nature . And here we come to the crux of the problem.
I fear that too many elderly are falling into the trap of thinking that because some young people behave in an apparently illogical way, they are in fact illogical. That because their behavior seems without human motive, they have no human motive, and without human motive, what are we except animals? That is not an opinion I agree with, but it is one that’s inherent in the psyche of many individuals. After all, if someone has no motive, if they are intrinsically unreasonable, they might do anything, lash out at anyone – much like a dangerous animal that will strike out at everything which threatens it. That a well dressed young man with a friendly face could so terrify a middle-aged lady is testament to just how prominent that mindset is becoming among the ranks of British citizens.
I imagine that for many of the older generations, walking through a group of youths equates to something like crossing a field of cows during calving season, just after having heard about a spate of trampling. They appear to take no notice of you, yet you know that if you get too near, or if you run away, they will be onto you. And if one cow approached you, and if it got too close, your mind would race and you would wonder for one pulse-stopping second if that cow was going to attack. That is not because cows appear particularly aggressive, but because you have heard what they are capable of. Youths too, it seems, have a reputation for being dangerous animals.
Recent legislation has been passed enabling police officers to disperse groups of youths from town centers – not because they are causing trouble, but because locals are “intimidated” by their presence! How long until sections of our cities become “Youth Free Zones”? And by isolating youths from the community, what kind of adults will emerge? It’s a scary prospect.