The Most Sides to Every Story: How Young and Old Could Make Each Other Better

In her beautiful coming-of-age novel, Kitchen, Banana Yoshimoto puts this question in the mind of the lead character, Mikage: “Is this what it means to be an adult—to live with ugly ambiguities?”

This sentence has haunted me for a very long time.

I once wrote about this quote in the kind of paper you write when you’re in college– about what a gift youth can be to the world. I framed this question as problematic, a moment of loss for Mikage. I saw the question as a representation of failure on the part of humans to hold onto the idealism and purity of youth.

In a conversation about the book and my paper, my professor asked me a gentle but sharp question: “What if this is what it means to be an adult? What will you do?”

At the time, I could think of no worse fate than losing the clear world my young eyes saw and trading it in for a foggy, vague one.

Years later, and this weekend especially, as we watched students lead marches all over the world asking for gun reform, and as we watch adults respond, all I can think about is this line and this question.

If someone asked me today: “Does being an adult mean living with ambiguities?” I would answer: “I wish.”

I wish more adults these days were willing to hold more than one competing narrative at once. I wish more adults were willing to say that there needs to be room for more than one solution, more than one conversation. I wish more adults talked about how it is possible for more than one thing to be true at the same time.

Instead, it is the so-called adults these days who are locked into the way they view humanity, politics, the future. It is adults who are insisting in the comment sections of the world that the problem of mass shootings can only be solved through just laws or just individual mental health treatment. It is adults who are unwilling to compromise and admit that we might need every possible solution we can think of.

Whether or not we think they ought to be pressing the issue on school grounds and school time, the young people who are marching in the #NeverAgain movement are doing exactly what young people have often done in the world: They are asking the world to change. They are hoping to step into a better place than the one they see right now. It is the gift of youth to imagine and call for a world that is closer to ideal.

It ought to be the gift of age and wisdom for adults to see conversations through multiple lenses. It should be the gift of people with more years to see the nuance of difficult problems and to hold as many true things in their hands as possible.

Young people are built to see one side to most stories. As the years go by, we should all be adding to the sides we can see.

What the human story needs right now is the same thing we have always needed: Young people asking difficult questions and wise people asking difficult questions right back.