(opinions)(lte) generations

The marquee above the Lyric Theatre in downtown Blacksburg displays a message telling people to go home, March 18, 2020.

At first, I considered addressing these thoughts simply to boomers; however, I have since come to realize that many of my young peers have also adopted the mannerisms that I take issue with. Thus, I invite all readers, young and old, to consider what I have to say. 

Many in our communities have, or are at least assumed to have, a vested interest in slowing the spread of COVID-19. In addition, many people take issue with those who are actively flaunting the enacted societal rules designed to slow the spread of the virus. Much attention on those who are disobeying rules has been aimed at one group –– young people. I find this attention to be partial, hasty and dangerous. 

While the images of young college students, some of them Hokies, continuing to enjoy their spring breaks on Florida and Texas beaches despite the global pandemic are unnerving and unacceptable, they do not represent a complete picture of generational disobedience. 

I am shocked that many of my generation, along with some reputable media organizations, have not asked the question: Are those who are harming the weakest among us by ignoring social distancing rules really only Gen Zers and millennials? 

My answer is a resounding “NO!” 

I have yet to come across a formal or casual commentator who has presented any credible evidence that younger generations are solely or disproportionately ignoring the rules. This is partially because, at the time of writing this letter, sufficient data do not exist on the topic. But moreover, these commentators fail to acknowledge something more crucial: older people are ignoring the rules too. 

Assuming that all older people are immune, through supposed life experiences, to selfishness, misguidance and in extreme cases, vindictiveness, is foolish. 

I have been shocked to see the number of older people who are still venturing out in my hometown and casually interacting with each other as if nothing is going on, and I have been shocked to hear from my friends the number of older people still carrying on life as normal in Blacksburg. My personal observations are backed up by underreported insights

Furthermore, before more stringent regulations were enacted across the country, some places of worship, often disproportionately catering to older people, defiantly remained open. Or, take the case of Jerry Falwell Jr., a 57-year-old man deciding to reopen Liberty University’s campusto thousands of students and faculty despite pleas from Gov. Northam, health experts and other sane leaders. These decisions were enacted by older people, and they defy societal rules, placing thousands of lives at risk. 

I cannot claim that older people are ignoring rules any more than young people. However, it is apparent that people of all generations are unjustly disobeying. Contrary to the romanticized myth of the “entitled millennial,” stubbornness, selfishness and stupidity permeate all generations. 

The effect of the flawed exclusive focus on young deviants is appalling and needs to stop now. This focus has led to something dangerous: blaming young people for the spread of the virus. 

The sensationalist narrative that America’s older generations are being threatened by the foolishness of young people creates artificial generational camps and delegitimizes the valid needs of young people, creating intergenerational strife and further hindering efforts to effectively slow the spread. 

It is easy for young people operating under the assumption of disproportionate blame to make unfortunate comments assuming that they are somehow resource drainers on healthcare systems, whether they be in the NRV or NOVA. I do not believe in approaches that decide healthcare access based on age. I happen to believe that people of all ages in all localities deserve appropriate medical attention. 

If the young-person-is-to-blame presupposition is accepted, then it is easy for older Blacksburg residents to make subtle comments, such as assuming all students have committed deviancy. In extreme cases, acceptance of this presupposition has also opened the door to older residents making claims proposing Virginia Tech should shut down the entire campus and that the town should reprimand any returning students. Extreme comments like these venture out of the realm of romanticism and into the dark corners of generational chauvinism. 

Moreover, failing to acknowledge the wrongdoing of older generations runs contrary to the supposed aim of those who espouse it: to slow the spread of the virus. In order to fully commit to this virtuous aim, members of all communities should acknowledge that some people of all ages are actively disobeying. 

Virginia Tech officials and older community members need to shift their language away from sweater-vest patronization of students and toward an acknowledgement that members of all generations should fully follow guidelines and laws aimed at slowing the spread of COVID-19. 

Whether we –– and by we, I mean all humans –– are 19 or 90, or live in Blacksburg or Bangalore, all of us should be doing everything within our individual capacity to justly adhere to rules of social distancing. 

Retreating to younger generation blame is misguided, dangerous and counterproductive.

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