One of my favorite things to do on a rainy Saturday is to lay on my couch and watch PBS. If that sounds like something weird for a 26-year-old to do, you’re right; it is. But I love historical documentaries, and PBS has a treasure chest full of them.
A couple of weekends ago, I settled in to watch PBS’ new documentary on Woodstock. This year is the 50th anniversary of the festival, and the documentary looks back on the planning of one of the most culturally important moments in the past century. 400,000 young people trekked to the middle-of-nowhere New York to listen to Creedence Clearwater Revival, the Who, Jimi Hendrix, and other mainstays from the 60s rock-n-roll scene.
The documentary presents this fact: The social movements of the 1960s, Woodstock being one of them, are a testament to the influence that young people can have on our culture. Young people didn’t gather at Woodstock because of a concert. They didn’t gather to hang out with their friends. They gathered because they wanted their voices to be heard, and the musicians on stage were capturing their voices in a way that no one else was. Woodstock represented the spirit of change that young people so desperately wanted from a society that had written them off as a generation doomed to fail.
If that last sentence sounds familiar, it’s because the phrase “doomed to fail” has been used to describe every generation since the beginning of time. You know what I’m talking about: These kids today, they don’t respect their elders anymore. They’re too engrossed in their cellphones. They don’t play outside. Things aren’t like they used to be.
Those are just some of the phases used to describe my generation.
In the 1960s, the boomer generation faced similar criticisms. It was said that they didn’t respect tradition. They didn’t respect authority. Rock-n-roll was polluting their morals. They didn’t respect their families. And they didn’t respect their country.
Yet, at the same time, the kids at Woodstock were largely responsible for some of the most important social changes of the late 20th century – including the civil rights movement, the women’s movement, and the student movement.
The documentary describes them this way:
“For the generation that was coming of age in the late 60s, everything was up for grabs, young people were rejecting the status quo, whether it was your parents, whether it was your community, or the business establishment. This counter culture, as it was called, influenced music. It influenced art. It influenced society.”
The author of 2 Timothy writes, “Let no one despise your youth, but set the believers an example in speech and conduct, in love, in faith, in purity” (1 Timothy 4:12, NRSV).
Sometimes setting an example involves speaking and acting in ways that push boundaries and challenge the status quo. In the 1960s, it was illegal for people of color to eat in the same restaurants as white people. Daring to make a difference, young black students walked into dinners all across the south, sat down at lunch counters, and asked to be served. They were almost always arrested because in the eyes of their states, they were breaking the law. But what they did was courageous. What they did was right. What they did catalyzed change.
Today, when young people walk out of classrooms to raise awareness about gun violence and climate change, they are using their words and actions to bring about change. Even though they may be reprimanded by their schools for breaking the rules, we should commend their courage and their willingness to stand up for what is right. Like the generation before them, they know that change happens because of action.
Let me add a caveat here.
Yes, every generation has its struggles. There are, indeed, real concerns about how young people use social media and technology. But don’t make the mistake of writing off a younger generation because they push boundaries and challenge tradition. Remember the 1960s; remember Woodstock; remember that those criticisms were probably once levied against you.