Forever young


Today is my birthday. I’m fifty-one years old. That’s the kind of age that sounds really, really old when you’re young.

Of course I don’t feel old, and especially not lately, when I’m on such a steep learning curve. I’m a baby organizer, an infant activist. Recently, I discovered Marshall Ganz, an iconic longtime organizer (first through this excellent interview and then this one and then Resistance School). He makes extraordinarily exciting (to me) connections between narrative, faith, and politics–basically, my sweet spot. I’ll writing much more about that, I’m sure, but right now I just want to mention something he said about youth, in this piece:

I went to Mississippi [in 1963, the summer after his junior year at Harvard, which was the beginning of his activism] because it was a movement of young people, and there’s something very particular about young people, not just that they have time. Walter Brueggemann writes in The Pro­phetic Imagination about the two elements of prophetic vision. One is criticality, recognition of the world’s pain. Second is hope, recognition of the world’s possibilities. Young people come of age with a critical eye and a hopeful heart. It’s that combination of critical eye and hopeful heart that brings change. That’s one reason why so many young people were and are involved in movements for social change.

Our challenge, in activism and in life, is to maintain that kind of youthfulness. It’s too easy to let the critical eye take precedence, to jettison the hopeful heart, to let it be stopped by discouragement or cynicism.

And I also happen to think that quite often we lose that hopeful heart because we think we’re supposed to. We think that’s maturity. We think idealism is foolish; if we manage to maintain idealism, we’re mocked.

It’s true that blind idealism, unburdened by planning or vision, will be easily overcome by reality, and thus not accomplish all it dreams of. To temper idealism, we need to acquire discipline and technique and, most of all, patience.

And remember “temper” does NOT mean diminish. It means to make stronger. Tempered steel has been treated by heat to reduce brittleness and increase flexibility, thereby reducing the tendency to break. (It’s all true, I looked it up. You really couldn’t have a better metaphor. Words are incredible. They are gifts. Language is infinitely capacious, like the human spirit–but I digress.)

The point is that tempered idealism is a powerful weapon.

More tomorrow, of course. This is a short one. Despite being terribly youthful, I’m tired. Self-care, y’all.