“Look at it!” said my sister, rolling up her sleeve to reveal her new tattoo, my late grandfather’s signature. Tattoos are relatively popular in my family–my parents have two apiece, there are scattered inked body parts among aunts and uncles, and I’ve always thought that at some point, I too will get a tattoo.
Seeing my sister’s new tattoo, I began to think about what I’d choose if I got a tattoo today. Right now, five months from my eighteenth birthday, I can’t imagine making a decision like that, a decision that will stay with me for my entire life. And a tattoo is just a tiny ink marking on my body. Also, in November, I will be legal to vote in the presidential election. An election! For the President! Of the USA! Talk about big decisions! And I am a relatively stable soon-to-be eighteen year old compared to some of my peers. People my age are crazy–they jump off bridges by night, they play beer pong, they sneak out of windows–at least according to movies. Either way, sometimes the idea that my generation is becoming legal adults freaks me out.
As for the upcoming election, I watched coverage of the first round of democratic primary debates on Tuesday and I wish I could say I felt like an informed adult citizen capable of forming opinions…but that would be a lie. I was straight-up overwhelmed. First of all, I felt under-informed on every issue, from gun control, to immigration policy, to climate change, to Hillary Clinton’s email scandal.
I want to be informed, but so many of these issues are rooted in complexity so deep, in things that happened long before I was born, in ideas that have been debated since the beginning of time. I feel unable to catch up to the informed adults that have been making decisions for decades.
And as I talk to my peers and friends about their early reflections on the presidential candidates, I can’t help but think that this lack of information has made my generation into a selfish demographic. The only issues that people my age care about are ones that directly relate to us.
For example, out of three strangers that I spoke to in my graduating class, two said that they felt the most pressing issues facing America right now are gay and trans rights. I absolutely believe in all rights for LGBTQ couples, but I can’t help but disagree about this being the most pressing issue. Same-sex marriage has been legalized! Socially, we have a long way before we’ve reached equity, but as far as legislation goes, we’ve made extreme progress in the last year.
My only explanation for the shallow pool of issues that people my age care about is that we’re too overwhelmed to get informed. The only topics that we form opinions on are topics that are comfortable. When I truly consider how uninformed I feel, I realize that this stems from the subconscious idea that I’ll get informed later. People my age fly by, promising ourselves that we’ll take time to understand the crisis in the Ukraine when we’re older, that we’ll investigate the conflict in the Middle East when we grow up.
Now I’m five months away from “grown up,” and I have so far to go before I’ll be ready to make a decision on which man or woman should be in charge of my country. Without actively getting informed, my graduating class, and by extension my generation, could go on indefinitely promising to get informed later. Before we know it, we could be middle aged citizens, still ranting about the same old comfortable topics.
But this doesn’t have to become a reality. I have five months until I turn eighteen and thirteen months until I help elect a new president. If I’m old enough to get permanent ink marked on my body, I’m old enough to understand issues immediately outside my comfort zone. I have my work cut out for me.