Wednesday, 8 May 2019

Young people and how they see the world

Young people have a particular way of viewing the world. To a large degree they see other people and other things as coextensive with themselves. In their minds there is little separating themselves and other people.

This phenomenon starts in infancy, when the mother is the centre of the world for the child, who doesn't even see him- or herself as separate from her. When children grow up somewhat and see their own reflection they begin to see themselves as individuals. But the ties that link young people to the world so strongly continue into adolescence and even beyond it.

Young people see someone walking down the street and if they don't get a positive feeling from that person, who might just be minding their own business, and “don’t like the look” of that person, they might throw a bottle to the ground to frighten him. They might see a piece of clothing that the person is wearing and think that this requires comment from them, and call out rudely, frightening the innocent pedestrian. They might do this in order to cement their place in the group they are with, in order to fix their status with the collective.

Young people sit on trains conversing in loud voices and joking and laughing and singing without regard for the feelings of other passengers because to do so makes them feel good. They need that solid connection with their peers and they need the positive affect of a smile, just like a baby craves her mother's smile. The brains of young people are not mature and the part of the brain that controls impulses is immature until the age of 25, so young people aren’t able to suppress feelings that make them react without thinking to external stimuli.

This became even more clear to me this month when I had a conversation on Twitter with someone who was complaining about "selfish" people aged over 50 compared to youth. I remonstrated with this person (I couldn’t work out if they were a man or a woman because it was an anonymous account) and asked what made them think older people are selfish. I said that older people certainly have the ability to control their impulses and to consider the consequences of their actions. The person called me "patronising". I told them about the human brain and also that there are special psychiatrists for children (people aged under 18) because they have special needs.

All the while this exchange was ongoing, the egging episode in Albury was playing out online. It reminded me of the Fraser Anning egging (that guy was, what, 17?) but it was ironic how what had just happened in southern NSW buttressed my argument in a very graphic and emphatic way. I had to block the person I was talking with in the end because of bad language. And SMH reporter Judith Ireland later said that the woman who threw the egg at the PM was aged 25. She proved my point precisely.

In Wim Wenders' 1987 film, a personified angel walks through a train but he is invisible to the passengers. He sits down next to some of them and listens to their thoughts. They are all sad and troubled, as if that was the reality in real life. But this is a young man's film (Wenders was in his early 40s when the film was made) because it is axiomatic to the director that a person sitting alone on a train who has no expression on his or her face must be troubled, when they might in actual fact be thinking about any number of things.

This desire for positive affect influences us at all times, and is the reason why some people smile when they meet someone for the first time. It is a way to suppress aggression, and aggression is the most natural impulse motivating humans at all times. Young people especially need that smile, that positive affect, or else they can easily lash out violently, since in its absence they see a threat to their own safety or to the cohesion of the group they are with.

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