Young People Inherit a Difficult World

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(Host) With recent graduations in mind, commentator Lois Eby offers some thoughts on the world young people are inheriting and the qualities they bring to it.

(Eby) This winter I was asked to facilitate a mixed-media collage workshop for a conference on issues related to diversity. The participants in this workshop were high school students and young adults in their twenties. These young people created remarkably exciting and expressive artworks on a range of topics. Discrimination against women, African-Americans, gays and lesbians, and Muslims, and the contributions of these diverse groups to society, were the subject of some of the art. Dismay at the greed and deception that sometimes fuel government decisions and in particular decisions to go to war formed the basis of other works. I was moved by the depth and sophistication of their knowledge and feelings about these issues.

One young man created a collage on the subject of prejudice. First, he drew a rectangle on a piece of paper. Then, inside the rectangle he pasted five versions of the word SKIN cut from magazines. Each SKIN was a different color: beige, white, red, brown and so on. These different colors represented the different colors of the human race. By putting the skin colors in the box of his rectangle, the artist symbolized the difficulty many people have in embracing the diversity of our human skin colors. Finally, to represent thinking “outside the box,” this young man created a border outside the rectangle. On the border were references to areas of diversity that are even harder to accept than skin color: religious differences, political differences, differences of habit and thought, and differences of sex and sexual preference. These differences are more than skin deep, the artist seemed to be saying; they are deep down differences that fuel much of the hatred and conflict in the world; we will have to think outside the box if we want to change things for the better.

I left the collage workshop with a mixture of feelings. Seeing this artwork on issues from hate crimes to war reminds me of the last lines of Grace Paley¿s poem called “The Sad Children’s Song.” Paley writes about adult children who come home to visit their parents. The poem becomes serious when the children observe that the world is a wreck; there are bombs all over the place. Paley ends the poem with the children asking: Why did you leave things like this? Then the poet writes:

Where can we go? said the children
What can we say to our children?

The young people I met know that they inherit a difficult world. In their presence I felt the sad weight of the problems they face alongside the creativity and insight of their vision. On the other hand, these young people were open to a diverse world. They will seek creative solutions to the problems we face. In the end, along with concern, I felt an admiration for their courage and vision. It’s a feeling that must be common to many people attending graduations this spring.

This is Lois Eby.

Lois Eby is a painter who comments on the arts, women’s issues and civil rights.

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