Youthful zealotry

Put away your youthful zealotries. By the time you have reached your forties, you will have abandoned everything you once thought to be true. That won’t help those whose lives you ruined or disrupted though.

At university, I knew a fellow who thought my supposed infractions so serious that they necessitated me being pinned to the wall of the student common room by my neck. I was to be put back in my place, because another zealot had written my name on a piece of paper, affixed to the prayer room noticeboard. Oddly, the author of the letter escaped rebuke and later became his best friend. Where is that zealot today? Last spotted trying to cut a deal with a known fraudster in his bid to secure a seat in Parliament.

What happened to that particular zealot’s mates, I have no idea, for I never bothered to remember their names. Little did I know of the sectarianism which dominates the lives of the outwardly religious, which demanded I be anathematised by my fellow believers no sooner had I jumped aboard this caravan. From the earliest moments, my faith was found suspect, my intentions found wanting. But no matter. I’m still here a quarter of a century on, though admittedly I have largely withdrawn from that thing we like to call community.

Of course, the about-turns are not confined to our own zealots. As a young man, I encountered many a zealot totally obsessed with the notion of honour, enforced with threats of violence. Only, in the years that followed, I learnt that many of those folk were simply hypocrites, engaged in the very actions they erroneously attributed to me. Ironically, I was the one who ended up having the traditional marriage my many detractors claimed to be defending.

Those zealots too have shunned all they once held to be true, which begs the question, “Why bother?” Why enforce your beliefs so mercilessly, often with the threat of consequences if, in the years to come, you’re going to swing so far back in the other direction? Granted, the youthful brain has no conception of the experiences which will shape them in the years to come, and no desire to listen to their elders who have already lived such lifetimes.

But seriously, pause for thought before you threaten another with a broken back, or throttle a young man in public, or — God forbid — join a band of armed fanatics. Stop and think. Interrogate your own intentions. Where are you going? Why ruin another’s life on a mere whim? Why despoil their reputation for the sake of rumours invented in your own head? Why bring about destruction, forged only in your immature synapses?

Take a seat. Sit back down. Ask your parents about their youth. Give thought: twenty-five years from now is not that far off. Soon you too will be looking back on your youth, shuddering. But by then there will be no fixing all that you broke. Perhaps you’ll be able to apologise — perhaps you just won’t bother — but mostly it won’t make the slightest difference. It’s hard to correct the course of a life set off in a completely different direction.

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