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By Sarah James-Cyrus

 Saturday, November 6, 2010.

“From our birthday, until the day we die is but the winking of an eye” (William Butler Yeats)  

Employees are issued identification cards, prisoners get numbers, but for most, one’s age remains to be the common denominator that impliedly dictates your maturity, how you are perceived by others and your general position in society.  Whilst most adults worry about grey hairs, rapidly appearing wrinkles and keeping up with added responsibilities, there is an alarming minority of young people who appear comfortable with death and will flippantly declare that they will not live to see their eighteenth birthday.

     The idea of turning 18 now seems to be a double edged sword of a different sort. Whilst most teenagers look forward to celebrating that newly-found freedom and embracing the experiences and opportunities that present themselves, there is a growing trend of young people swallowed by the negativity of the streets, materialism, crime and cynicism, who can secretly visualise their gravestones.

For most, turning 18 is a long awaited milestone, the age of responsibility and your passage into adulthood. Alongside the party and presents, you are bestowed with the legal acceptance that you are matured enough to engage in certain activities and the ability to venture into areas that were previously not allowed. As an adult, you can now make your own decisions. You can vote, get married or go abroad (without parental permission), enter contracts, own a bank account, stand for parliament and even have a tattoo. You are free to participate in society without having to consult anyone else and gain a new found respect amongst your peers.

However as the saying goes that whilst you reach the age where you are ‘considered an adult who gets to make your own decisions’, there is the added responsibility of being an adult and ‘having to make your own decisions.’ As we get older, we become more prone to exposure. So the right to have a drink on a night out can slowly deteriorate into a raging alcoholic and the young petty criminal used to juvenile accommodation, may have significant trouble adjusting to a life behind bars.

This new fear of dying prior to turning 18 is understandable, if you consider the fact that as a society, we are continuously bombarded with violence, cruelty and aggression through the news, games, films, papers and music. If you combine this with the reported increase in gang activity, weapon usage and lack of respect, it is easy to see where this trepidation has originated. The sad fact is that, as a society, we have allowed propaganda to not only dictate what clothes we should buy and what music we should listen to, but to also penetrate our emotions and install a new fear.

Some role models continue to promote the ‘get rich quick or die trying’ mentality, computer games like ‘The Call of Duty’ glamorise the use of firearms and the young and vulnerable unfortunately buy into it all.  The artist Drake expresses his fear of what the future holds through song, whilst Kanye West purports that ‘nothing’s ever promised tomorrow, today.’ It all seems to be a culmination of confusion, negative encouragement and regrets. Naturally, if the older generation are unable to filter the negativity, bad influences and promote a stronger more constructive message as to how we should interact with each other, how is the younger generation expected to make sense of it all?

When you consider that there are people who can create a Life List and record more than a thousand things they would like to do before they die, it is a sad contrast to the young person who feels trapped by their circumstances, is used to crime and lives for the day. Just as you would not allow the weather to dictate your movements, we have to remove that mindset that keeps us trapped in a bubble where you have to ‘shank before you get shanked.’ A short life of looking over your shoulder may be exciting but only for a short period of time. Death is inevitable but who would choose to die in a barbaric manner?

As an individual, you need to make a conscious decision to change your reality by ditching the dream to fund the champagne at the next party and replacing it with the dream to swim with sharks or attend the Rio De Janeiro carnival. Crime will always exist and human nature is susceptible to malicious thoughts, but if we really took everything quite literally we would barricade ourselves inside our houses and never venture out.

Look to the future, write that list and work on improving other areas of your life like your finances, work, family and health.  It is a difficult feat, but in order to really live, we have to remain focused and ambitious, reject the expectations of others and act in our best interests.

“You were born to be an original. Don’t die a copy” (John Mason)

Sarah James-Cyrus is a trainee barrister and currently works as a Communications Officer for the Metropolitan Police Service in London.


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