The Confidence of the Newly Minted

You know, it never fails to surprise me each time I am forced to recognize yet another thing I don’t know about life, when it feels as if everyone else has figured it out. I hope that in my re-booting process I wind up with additional savoir-faire because my pace seems to be on the low end of the bell curve.

A few days ago, I hightailed it down to Capitol Hill to attend a job networking event. It was an oppressive June evening—the sort where sweat trickles down your back and your hair deflates instantaneously as your huff your way from the depths of a dank and fetid Metro stop into an overly air conditioned interior. But, given that I continue to be looking for employment, I forced myself to attend.

Capitol Hill is an impressive locale, with pink granite based buildings and pleasing plantings of petunias along the sidewalks. It was just after six and throngs of Congressional staffers were streaming out of the Rayburn and Longworth buildings, eagerly chattering and brimming with the energetic determination of those who Intend to Rule. As I made my way through security, I crossed paths with yet more such staffers, their animated conversations bouncing off the marble lined hallways.

What came as a shock to me was that they all looked like they were twelve years old.

Now, I suppose that in order to reach a point where one feels compelled to re-boot one’s life, a certain amount of water has gone under the bridge. Me and my progressive lenses will cop to that. But, really? Am I so off base and hoary now that I have lost any proportional sense as to how old twenty-ish staffers actually look? And, further, how is it possible that they all seem so confident? How is it that they can feel so assured in arguing national policy details?

Is it simply the prerogative of the senior set to roll their eyes, imperiously contending that youth and inexperience disqualify all those who might otherwise assert opinions?

By comparison, I was an elderly 27 when I started working for a California State Assemblyman. A freshly minted attorney, I knew how to research case briefs, but not much else. And certainly not enough to express strongly held views about the state budget.

Rather, my job was to serve as the Assemblyman’s main liaison to the District. Working in the 35th AD, my responsibility was to take action on constituent concerns–a role of primary importance for any legislator. Contact with the electorate requires a finely tuned ear, responsiveness, and common sense whenever possible. By distinction, I watched my Sacramento office mates (younger than I) deign to reply to my emails, only after they concluded whatever State Crisis of the Moment their infinite expertise required. Excuse me while I snort.

Observing these ambitious Hill Climbers cruise the halls of Congress in a somewhat proprietary manner got me thinking. Have I just been slow on the draw in terms of knowing where I want to go and what I want to do, or is there something awry with the Capitol Hill perception that these kids, all of whom are in their career infancy, have a lot to add in terms of wisdom and judgment for national policy debates?

Don’t get me wrong. I am grateful that brilliant young minds continue to be produced—I’m counting on it! I also believe that if you are old enough to serve in the military, you are capable of foresight and good judgment in other arenas, as well. New blood brings new perspective, and it’s important that we have a multi-generational investment in our democracy. However, the wisdom that comes with age, experience, and error cannot be replicated by means of an app.

Honestly, these staffers were—kids. Kids who roam Capitol Hill with next to zero life experience. They may be willing to work for pennies, and have energy and enthusiasm in abundance, but those qualities don’t make for an even trade as far as I can see. Democracy is a messy business and should be laissez faire, but observing this side of Occupy DC made me (yet again) question my confidence in the judgment of our elected representatives.

However, I always am prepared to consider that I am behind the times. Thoughts???


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