Those words were whispered to me by the brilliantly kinetic, auburn-haired teenage daughter of Cathy and Walter Isaacson as we listened to a presentation given by members of the New Orleans community on the aftermath of Katrina.
This magical young woman is exposed to a wide range of issues, because her father, as the CEO of the Aspen Institute, is knee deep in the challenges of our world. My little friend, an only child, is as genially comfortable in the company of world leaders as she is with her peers. Her revelations on the harsh realities of life may have come sooner than to most her age, but others of her generation are not far behind in their enlightenment.
My generation had a flower as its logo -- today's symbol is a skull. A mosquito buzzing around the room is no longer the bearer of an inconvenient bite, but a potential West Nile virus. The summer floods in the Northeast are not just a heavy rainstorm, but a deluge of rising seas in the climate change doomsday scenario.
My generation experienced casual sex with abandon; the stakes are far too high for that now. She and her friends can't even experience the freedom of exploring the city without adult supervision and a litany of fears programmed into their heads about evil people who wait "out there" to hurt them.
The search for role models in the contemporary media is practically impossible, as the so-called leaders of their generation are driving fast cars, taking drugs and going to rehab or jail. When the media isn't concentrating on those little idiots, it's filled with pictures of warring nations, and bombs and maiming on a daily basis in the Middle East. Images of starvation around the world are pervasive. Terrorism abounds. Our culture lies to us, our leaders lie -- and it seems that nearly everyone gets away with it. Our shame is the embarrassment of illiteracy and abject poverty within our own borders, the horrors of Katrina and the sanctioned neglect of inner cities.
We neglected to secure Social Security for the future, and have left the medical establishment in a shambles. We allowed our reputation to go from the greatest country on earth to pariah. We allowed the deficit to balloon out of control, and raped the environment to the point where many believe that these teenagers won't have a future to fear -- but no future at all. Even our food supply is corrupted by compromised packaged goods. The biggest failure of all is that we neglected to prepare this generation through education on the harsh realities of their future.
Shame on us. We can't allow our children to inherit our world without doing more and trying harder to correct our wrongs. This is the first generation I know that doesn't embrace a future more golden than that of the previous generation.
Not all of us can do a great deal about the problems in our world, but we can do something. And doing something has a social value beyond the act itself. Recycle, conserve energy, work in your local school district. Support candidates who will make change in your city and country, and give what you can to those who are less fortunate. Spend time with the generation that is going to inherit the earth -- and instill the hope in them that their parents took for granted.
It's not over yet, but complacency will not do; it got us into the mess we're in today. Don't give in, and don't give up, start the movement.
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