Ageist Responses to Florida Shooting Survivors-Turned-Activists

“Well, let’s ask ourselves, do we really think—and I say this sincerely—do we really think 17-year-olds on their own are going to plan a nationwide rally?”

“The big question is: Should the media be promoting opinions by teenagers who are in an emotional state and facing extreme peer pressure in some cases?”

“I absolutely know these children are heartbroken. But I also know they probably do not have the logistical ability to plan a nationwide rally.”

While some of the conspiracy theories about the Florida shooting survivors-turned-activists has both gotten attention for all the wrong reasons and been debunked (and rightfully so), the ageist sentiments such as the ones in the quotes above (all of them coming from prominent political commentators) should not just be debunked but also called out for what it is: ageism.

Ageism—defined by me in a blog post many months ago as “a form of discrimination where people are judged based on the age they are or the age they look”—is very apparent in some of the ways people are viewing and judging the shooting survivors-turned-activists. By saying that these teens are not capable of organizing a nationwide rally since they’re seventeen, or shouldn’t be promoted just because they are “teens in an emotional state,” we’re judging them as being too young (and therefore incapable) of doing certain things. And by promoting such messages about these teens not being capable of certain things because they are teens, we’re actually promoting ageism.

But it’s not enough to say that people are ageist for saying that high school kids are not capable of being activists on a national level. I urge us to go a step further, by promoting narratives that debunk such ageist thoughts. I urge us to promote the story of Malala Yousafzai, who became internationally known for advocacy at the age of 12 and nearly died because of her advocacy. I urge us to promote the story of Mo’ne Davis, who at age 16 has gone from being a pioneer (a girl starring in Little League Baseball, a sport traditionally for guys) to launching a shoe collection that benefits impoverished girls. I urge us to promote stories like that of my fellow Dickinson College alum Noorjahan Akbar, who was featured in major publications as early as when she was 19 and 20. Stories like these are the most powerful rebuttals to any notions that young people are not capable of doing something special just because they’re young.

People of a wide variety of ages are capable of doing special things. Young people are capable of doing special things. Old people are capable of doing special things. Middle-aged people are capable of doing special things. Ultimately, there are some things that do keep us from doing great things, but age is not one of them.

Why We Should Avoid Revenge

There have been times in my life when I felt wronged by someone. In many, if not all, of these instances, I was tempted to seek revenge on the person who wronged me. Most of the time, I didn’t give in to this temptation. But on a couple of occasions, I did.

I know that I am far from the only person who considers revenge against the wrongdoer. In fact, a recent blog post had to do with the Trump administration seeking revenge against the United Nations, which voted against Trump’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.

However, I make a call for all of us, regardless of political affiliation, religious beliefs, or personal views on other matters, to avoid revenge.

One problem with revenge is that revenge is so focused on “getting even” with someone that we fail to consider how our “getting even” might hurt the supposed wrongdoer, or hurt others who have nothing to do with the situation in which we were wronged. The Trump administration’s decision to cut American funding to the UN is an example of this—the administration’s desire to get even with the UN after the vote on the Jerusalem issue will end up lessening the UN’s ability to deliver humanitarian services, and as a result will hurt people who have absolutely nothing to do with Trump’s decision or the UN vote. While I hope that our struggles with revenge will not have consequences as potentially catastrophic as the example from the Trump administration, revenge nevertheless has the potential to hurt others.

If we seek revenge, we could also hurt ourselves. For example, former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie sought revenge on the Mayor of Fort Lee, New Jersey because he didn’t support Christie’s campaign for a second term as governor, and the result of that revenge (closing lanes on the George Washington Bridge) was a scandal that ended any hopes of Governor Christie becoming President Christie in 2016. Examples like Christie’s demonstrate that it really is in our own best interests to avoid revenge.

Critics of my anti-revenge message might say the following: “What about seeking revenge for unjust actions? Wouldn’t that be okay?” Actually, that is not okay. The most effective movements for human rights in recent decades, and the most effective human rights activists, urged people to avoid revenge. Mahatma Gandhi once said that, “An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind.” Malala Yousafzai didn’t “want revenge on the Taliban, I want education for sons and daughters of the Taliban.” Martin Luther King Jr. said that, “Man must evolve for all human conflict a method which rejects revenge, rejection, and retaliation.”

I will, however, go one step further than simply urging us to avoid revenge. We should “bless those who persecute us” and “love our enemies,” as Jesus Christ (another proponent of peace) said. We should do what Gandhi, Malala, and Dr. King did, and respond to hatred and hurt with love and compassion instead of revenge.