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Youth: why do we feel as if we had been “ripped off” of our time and what can we do to take it back?

Just an average guy that read “On the road” a bit too soon and was led to tending to fall in love too much with too many things. In Bocconi I am studying International Politics and Government.

Reading time: 5 minutes

Education as a life-jacket to beat the stasis

Young men and women felt and still feel “ripped off” of all their youth dreams and possibilities, “robbed” of the memories they could have made, of the people they could have met, of the choices they could have taken. So, what can we do about it?

Covid-19 has had far-reaching consequences, hurting so many different people in countless ways. Youth — in the years of blooming, experiencing and actually being born again as informed adults and citizens — feel as if they have been “ripped off” of all the time and the opportunities they should (and could) have had.

Life between four walls has become suffocating, with all of its possibilities seeming inconceivable and pointless. Everything is perceived as distant and abstract, as if it had lost all of its concreteness.

Talking to people my age, it is very clear that this sentiment is shared and it’s frightening: every impulse to act, to participate, to engage seems to be numbed by this veil of uncertainty that — now of all times — covers every single aspect of everyday life.

We feel more lost than ever: all day-to-day intricacies have been replaced by what is sensed as the greatest complexity of all. Personally, I was in my last year of high school when the pandemic happened. 2020 has been an “extraordinary” year, in the literal sense of the word, since everything was far from ordinary. The last year of high school is supposed to symbolise a turning point: you start a new life, away from the typical routine you had got used to — this alone is very complicated and the fact that the path towards a new everyday life was abruptly cut off only managed to make it harder.

Education, studying and school sort of began fading, moving to the background: some of us would still concentrate on duties and on the work we had to do, but it started to make less and less sense; studying became empty and sterile, self-referential. Was there any point to it anymore?

Young men and women felt and still feel “ripped off” of all their dreams and possibilities, “robbed” of the memories they could have made, of the people they could have met, of the choices they could have taken. We are forever going to miss the last year we lived in an incomplete way. No one could have thought we would miss school, classes and teachers. We missed our daily rituals, the certainty of those little gestures we were used to seeing among classmates and friends, such as grabbing a coffee, hearing somebody’s laughter echoing across the corridors, complaining about how much school stressed us out. We took everything for granted, until it was snatched away from us. Maybe it is because almost everything in life usually goes like this: you enjoy something while you are experiencing it, but it’s only when you separate from it that you understand what it meant to you and you’re able to appreciate its real value.

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Perhaps we are going to feel in half forever, as if something were missing from us. Our teenage years in half. Our university life in half.

We can either yield to this feeling and surrender all that we are to this “halfness” or we could try and fill the gap left by it: we have been able to find a dimension, a window of normality in these unusual times, through online schooling, the value of education, the value of writing, the value of speaking. We possess so much more than we think we do. Being tired, being busy, being engaged, being under pressure: these are recurring elements that give us a sense of “purpose”, of belonging. By concentrating on these feelings we are going to feel less lost, less apathetic and – in some way – more complete.

Perhaps it is true: we are a “desperate generation”, a generation in halves, a generation that doesn’t fit, that will never fit; nevertheless, I like to think that we also are a united generation: united as students, as young adults, as workers, as people. We find ourselves more or less in similar conditions and that’s precisely why we should be there for each other, figuring out our next step, one at a time. We are not alone, we never are.

I believe that one of the most terrible facets of this situation is the fact that responsibility cannot be clearly attributed to someone: there is no specific dictator implementing abominable measures, no specific bad government making lousy political decisions, no specific bad parent that forces you to go to school or prohibits you from going out on a Saturday night. Humanity had to yield before a virus that seems so little and yet has had so big an effect.

An old lady I met on the staircase of my building was once extremely eager to exchange a few words, longing for that social interaction that now seems so abstract in our minds. Masks on and distances respected, she told me that she considered this pandemic to be one of the worst wars she has ever seen, and that is because there is no actual concrete enemy to be addressed, no one towards whom we can direct our rage, our worries, our dismay. While I was waving goodbye, I thought to myself what this impossibility to identify a “culprit” could possibly mean in the life of young people: bad things are bound to happen and it’s very hard to escape from them.

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So what can we do? We are allowed to be sad, we are allowed to let ourselves feel blue for a while, get mad, get angry, embrace all the despair and the rage. But we absolutely need to snap out of it. That is precisely why everyone should change their perspective: we are full of assets and beautiful features that should not go to waste, we should try not to numb ourselves through outside perceptions that take us nowhere.

In this framework, education has a determinant role: education matters. Education should not become a “victim” of the apathy that assails us. Quite the opposite! Especially in times of crisis, education works as a solution to the stasis— which, in this case, means a sort of mental paralysis, a condition in which conflicts inside our minds induce us to reach a state of confusion which does not concede any kind of action (following Plato’s idea presented in the “Republic”). Education is the key to block this stasis from covering all the aspects in our lives, leading to a real democratic damage, simply because people wouldn’t be interested in the “common good” anymore, they wouldn’t be interested in anything anymore. This mental paralysis is so terribly dangerous, especially in critical moments such as the pandemic we live in. Why should we be relying on education then? Because in education and through education we find the key to comprehend, internalise and rationalise the complexity of our world; by way of learning and asking ourselves questions we are able to push away this stasis that assails us in moments of difficulty.

This is the knowledge that matters.

And it has absolutely nothing to do with intelligence. On the contrary, it is all about dedication, curiosity and commitment. Now, more than ever, education is the life-jacket we should all be wearing so as not to drown in this vast sea of problems, bad news, uncertainty we find ourselves floating in. Stasis, in this case, is to be avoided not only because it can pose a threat to the common good, but especially to our values, our ideas and ideals: we must safeguard all the precious features that compose us.

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I wish I could meet my younger self with the perception of school and education that I have today, showing him how much education is able to concretely provide us with tools that can be used in as much as we accept them and understand them.

Believing in education means believing in ourselves. We should let ourselves choose and let ourselves be chosen by life in all of its shapes. Maybe we won’t be able to take back the time that was stolen from us; however, we can try and make up for it, and education is a powerful tool: it allows us to travel through time and space and it permits us to create links between past, present and future. We are this future, but only if we endure all the difficulties we are forced to face. We are conscious, we are skilled and we are going to be able to sketch our tomorrow.

At the end of the day, looking back at what we’ve done and planning what we should do next, there’s one thing we have to keep in mind: regardless of what happens, let’s just not give up.

“[…] there’s no idea to which one doesn’t get acclimatised in time.”

Albert Camus, The Stranger
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Just an average guy that read “On the road” a bit too soon and was led to tending to fall in love too much with too many things. In Bocconi I am studying International Politics and Government.

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