Voices that Need to Go Viral

Rebecca Louise Law

Back when I was in Japan, there was a viral news story in the west about children in Japanese schools licking each others’ eyeballs. I had never heard of it before. None of the children I knew did it, and when I asked Japanese friends they also said that they had never heard of it.

As far as I could see, there had been one mention of it on an online forum and then the world had just jumped on this small window into a culture that no one is able to understand. People are much less likely to look into the credibility of such a story, instead wave their hand and say “gosh, those Japanese people are just WEIRD!”

I was reminded of this twice this week.

Firstly, there was the buzz on social media about an “Unemployed” jumper. While the article itself goes into the trend for middle class people to embrace working class culture (or what they perceive to be that), the discourse around the article showed that the jumper just adds fuel to the fire of young people not wanting to work hard. Of enjoying not having jobs. Of preferring to sit down and do nothing rather than try.

When I visit students (especially ones that are being quite disruptive), I often tell them that their biggest challenge in life will be to bust the myth that they are all lazy, entitled and glued to their phones. That they need to be keen to engage with people trying to help them.

I say it very often, but young people are bloody awesome. In the past month I have met students who:

  • have written a novel and are submitting to publishers
  • make YouTube videos of their music
  • campaign for foster child rights
  • get up on stage at a TEDx event and talk about something they’re passionate about

It is very rare that I encounter a young person who does absolutely nothing, but then again, I seek out these opportunities to have conversations with students to find out more about what their lives are like and what they get up to.

Just like how I felt sad when people pointed to a supposed “eye licking craze” to add to a perceived notion of Japanese people, I think it’s always unfortunate when people mouth off about what young people are like without taking advantage of situations when they can chat with a teen like, you know, a human being.

Opportunities like this are not restricted to parents or educators – I am sure many of you have nieces and nephews, teenage offspring of friends. I don’t expect for people to just walk up to a group of kids and start talking to them like a weirdo, but I am sure most people have opportunities to talk to young people.

The second time I was reminded of the eye licking thing wasn’t related to young people but actually to myself. Last week, one of the topics on Question Time was that old chestnut that the older generations like to go to – is it avocado toast that’s stopping millennials from buying houses?

I am a person who rents in a houseshare. I sometimes go out for brunch and I sometimes even buy avocados for my own consumption. Firstly, not all millennials are like me. Some have found themselves nice people to date/marry and are able to get a place of their own. Some don’t like avocado (I know, weird, right?) Some people are both tied to rented life but also don’t like brunch. Not every millennial looks like me.

A couple of weeks ago I was asked to speak on the BBC about being a renter, following the news that a third of millennials will be renting for life. I don’t mind renting at all – as long as the landlord is good and does his job properly. But what I explained in the short piece is that I choose to do jobs that make me happy (helping young people) rather than those that pay high salaries. We shouldn’t have to all aim to be high earners; even average earners like me should have a right to a nice place to live.

I don’t want to have to encourage every young person to think about what money they can make out of the choices they make. My own sister is going off to do fine art soon and as much as I’m so very proud of her doing something she’s amazing at and passionate about, I would do anything for her to not have to live like me – stuck in shared accommodation and making up for a lousy situation by going out for brunch every other week or so to just make life a little more tolerable.

Japanese people, young people, avocado-loving millennials. All are groups of people who have a lot of perceptions around them, a lot of people having strong opinions about them. But all deserve to have voices outside of think pieces that arise around viral information about eye licking, trendy jumpers and new stats.

So what can we do about it? We’re all in our little bubbles of people who act, think and look similar to us. It’s time we get out of those bubbles and speak with people who are not like us. Seek out those opportunities to get to know The Other.

I have a little idea of how I’m going to be doing this but I would love to know in the comments how you go out and speak with people not like you.

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