Island benefits when the generations converse


For The Beachcomber

For weeks now I have been following the debate about high school dances and thinking about the issue.

And I find that I am not at all sorry for the part I played in stirring up this controversy. It has been the occasion of hundreds of conversations, many of them deep and unprecedented, among adults and between adults and students. This has been a good thing, even if nothing else changes.

I see quite clearly now how surprising, shocking even, it was to the students when a group of parents rose up on their hind legs and objected to “grinding,” when drinking and driving and drugs are the serious dangers to young people on Vashon (Scott Harvey, Beachcomber, Nov. 18).

We stirred the controversy not because we are not concerned about drinking and drugs — we are — but because we believe that we must begin by inculcating a higher and positive standard of behavior and relationships. I think that unless we are prepared to raise our children to be ladies and gentlemen, and to treat each other accordingly, we will have little success in steering them away from activities that can ruin or end their lives.

I am confused by Chris Ott’s remarks (Beachcomber, Nov. 11). He says there is nothing to fear in the “grinding,” but much that is “truly shocking” in the lyrics — “sexually explicit, misogynistic and often violent.”

To me, the dancing and the lyrics are a matched pair. Mr. Ott also seems to like the current dance atmosphere, because he says no one need endure the fear he once experienced in asking a girl to dance. I wonder if that erstwhile fear and trembling on the dance floor wasn’t a kind of instinctive recognition that this matter of human sexuality is both wonderful and dangerous, and therefore is appropriately approached with a certain awe and respect.

Scott J. Englehard (Beachcomber, Nov. 25) says he thinks it a mistake to use our “personal reactions to justify taking lifestyle choices away from our high school students.” I think it has been empirically demonstrated that where lifestyle choices are sacred, nothing else is. We are learning, at last, that all human actions and works must be done with care and love and intelligence, with a respect for limits, and with an eye to the consequences and ramifications. Do we think that sex and human relationships are any less subtle, complex and delicate than the atmosphere, the oceans or the soil at our feet? About the things we care about most, there is often little or no choice at all. Or only the peculiarly human choice to accept with humility and grace the limitations entailed by the dutiful and responsible caring for a person — or for the earth. Is this too serious for the adolescent sexuality? Or too serious for our own (adult) sexuality?

Which brings me to Shelby Gale’s article (Riptide, Nov. 25). Shelby writes: “No good parent wants to send their child out into an environment where sex is glorified and encouraged.” Au contraire, Shelby. That is exactly what I do want. I want to glorify sex — it is a good thing, after all, not a bad thing. And I want to encourage glorified sex. “Grinding,” and much else that people — young and old — do with sex does not glorify it, but degrades it, reduces it to a game or an entertainment, isolating it from its foundations in the nature of persons, families and society.

Finally, I wish to be very clear about what I want. I want something much, much more than that the school administration ban a certain way of “dancing.” I want our society to abandon the assumption that youth culture and adult culture are doomed forever to be alien, hostile and separate. I want parents to abandon the notion that the years of their own youth (the ’60s and ’70s?!) were the glory days and the gold standard of humanity. Likewise, I want the youth to give up the romantic indulgence that every innovation and change they initiate is by definition the cutting edge of the expanding circle of human freedom and dignity.

I think we would be less likely to flatter ourselves — young or old — with these clichés if we did more things together — several generations working, playing, singing and, yes, dancing together.

I was on Fisher Pond recently along with what was the largest crowd I’ve ever seen on the frozen pond — grandparents, parents, youth and children enjoying each other’s company on a winter afternoon on the rare ice. The image is etched now in my mind, and it has become for me the symbol of what our life together in this community can and should be.

— Jack Stewart is the father of three sons.

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