Dear Youth with Open Minds,

Dear Youth with Open Minds,

Do not ever let anyone older than you shut you down by telling you that “you think you know everything.” When you have an open mind and you hear this, it will hurt, not because the truth stings (because this is not the truth) but because you know in your head and can feel in your heart that you are brimming with questions constantly threatening to overflow, sometimes at rather inappropriate times. You have a zeal for finding answers to your questions, for reading wide, for engaging in discussion. You feel you may never be satisfied, and are unsatisfied with being unsatisfied.

They who accuse you of thinking you know everything, whether they know it or not, are using an ad hominem fallacy (the nature of the fallacy is such that involves false logic) to attack you rather than address the points you put forth within discourse, regardless of whether your points are valid or invalid. They who tell you that “you think you know everything” probably act like, but won’t admit that they think they know everything. They have probably stopped asking questions and are trying to convince themselves they don’t have any; they are not interested in finding answers to questions they don’t want to believe they have. (When they do acknowledge that they have questions, they make these questions end with full stops and congratulate themselves on having been smart enough, or forward thinking enough, to have thought of them in the first place.) They fear that there may be things out there that can satisfy them, and they are terrified of these things because they are already too satisfied with being unsatisfied. They are the kind of people who might read this, and as prone as they are to ad hominem, might take offense at what looks like an attack on themselves rather than an attack on a kind of mindset. So beware of this accusation, because it does not benefit you; it only disrupts your focus. If you want to know whether your points are valid or not, and if you intend to learn something from someone who might know better than you – as you should – then perhaps consider having a conversation with someone who doesn’t feel attacked enough to attack you rather than address what you have to say.

Never let them use age as an excuse to belittle you. When they say that “you think you know everything” and credit that to your youth, themselves taking the higher ground based on their age, they are implying, whether they know it or not, that only when you are older may you be allowed to “think you know everything.” It is likely that they even assume themselves to be at that age already. Hold your youth like a treasured possession, but not as and end line. It is possible to retain youth even as you age. Be young enough, no matter how old you are, to keep knowing that you don’t know everything; but do not let the impossibility of anyone ever coming to know everything keep you from finding the knowledge you need at any moment. This quest is not a fruitless journey; it is a journey during which, as you acquire more, your capacity to hold more continues only to increase. It is a journey that ends only at death. Remember to be young until you die.

You are allowed to believe someone else is wrong before they start talking; everyone is entitled to their opinions, including and especially young people with open minds. However, the real tests are whether or not you will allow them to speak uninterrupted, and listen until they are done, and whether you adequately turn everything they have said over in your mind, to wholesomely assess if you take the same stance after they are done talking as you did before they began. Having an opinion does not make you closed-minded. Remember that. On the other hand, a refusal to acknowledge that opinions – including yours – may change, does.

And perhaps most importantly, to the youth with open minds: Write. Write a lot. Write to yourself especially – not only because you know what you need to hear and you know best what you think, but also so that you may remind your older self how to be young when your older self revisits your words and your mind as they are currently. Write now, and do not burn the pages. Write now, and do not delete the notes or the documents. They are the counter-spell to that magic no one understands, which seems to come with age; the dark magic that closes your mind, makes you unwilling to learn, deludes you into believing – even if you continue to tell yourself vacuously that you don’t believe it – that you are at the height of your wisdom, and that the youth are too stupid and clueless to know what is real; the magic that allows you to fall, without conscious conflict, into the paradox that you are wiser than the youth (because “wisdom comes with age”) yet also wiser than the old folks in in the outdated generation of those who raised you (because “wisdom and age are not necessarily synchronous”) and unable to see the irony in your own thoughts. Write so that this description never fits you.

Write to yourself so you may experience and reflect on your own evolution with retention and without obliteration. You owe it to yourself. For each elder you encounter that disappoints you, let your resolve to remain young and open-minded be strengthened twofold.

-Akotowaa

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