The Young and Stupid Clause


“Everything I did before the age of 25 should be wiped from my personal record.” I say this now, not to void a criminal record of youth, because I didn’t have one, but to suggest that we enter into a communal agreement to expunge from our impressions everything we hear about a person before they turned 26. I’m talking about enhancing the social contracts that we all have with one another. I’m talking about developing a social contract equivalent to the state’s procedure of expunging our criminal record as a minor, depending on the charges. If we commit an egregious transgression that goes on our permanent record, socially and criminally, but I say we forgive and forget the minor transgressions a person tells us from their life before they turned 26. I propose that we develop a personal, social, and cultural young and stupid clause that states, “Anything and everything we do before the age of 26 is officially off the record. We will not think any less of you, based on what you did before that tender age, and because I was as as young and stupid as you were at the time.”

We can laugh at one another. We can picture their mini-mes making character-defining decisions, and we “I just can’t picture you doing that!” one another with some judgment. When the laughter dies, however, I propose that we forget it all under the “but you were young and stupid” umbrella, because we were all young and stupid once, and most of us became old and wise as a result.

We naturally excuse any actions that occur before 18, because that’s when most of us were truly young and truly stupid, but neurologists write, “brain development likely persists until at least the mid-20s – possibly until the 30s.” Based on that theory, I say we personally extend that agreed upon consideration we have for one another to all actions that occur before age 26.

I still cringe when I think about how incredibly stupid I was. I’m no award-winning intellect now, but I’ve come a long, long way since my 26th birthday. I managed to disprove the state’s idea that a 16-year-old is responsible enough to sit behind the wheel, and every weekend thereafter, I proved that a 21-year-old is not old enough, or mature enough to handle alcohol. Thanks to the statements neurologists make on this subject, I cringe a lot less now, and I feel less shame for the things I did before 26, under the umbrella that my brain was far less developed and mature than I thought it was.

Age is a relative concept, females generally mature quicker than males, and some males mature quicker than others will. When I look back now, I tend to think I’m looking back at another person, and in many ways I am. I am almost completely different than I was then. If 180 degrees is completely different, I might be 170 degrees different.  

When the Mental Health Daily (MHD) website cites the earlier statement from a group of neurologists, it lists a number inhibitors that further delay brain development until “possibly the 30s” including alcohol abuse, chronic stress, poor diet, relationship troubles, social isolation, and sleep problems. The 25-30 me might raise my hand to all of the above, as I don’t think I explored the advantages of maturity until I approached my 29th birthday. One other inhibitor they don’t add, but I do, is parental stress. Some of us had parents who mercilessly pounded maturity, responsibility, and overall development into our heads, and we naturally spent our teens and twenties spent rebelling against those edicts.

I still don’t know what I was rebelling against when my dad wasn’t around, but my beacon revolved around the line, “What are you rebelling against?” “Whaddya got?” from the movie The Wild One and the George Costanza line, “You wanna get nuts? Let’s get nuts.”

“The prefrontal cortex doesn’t have near the functional capacity at age 18 as it does at 25,” the MHD website adds, and the writer of the article includes, “Adults over the age of 25 tend to feel less sensitive to the influence of peer pressure and have a much easier time handling it.”

I try to convince myself that I wasn’t as susceptible to peer pressure as I was. “There’s no way I did that,” I tell myself, when I know I did. I know I was young and stupid.

Those of us who were lucky enough to survive the stupidity eventually achieve a form of stair-stepping acceptance of how stupid we were that mirrors the stages of grief in some ways. These stages are relative, of course, as we all go through these stages in different ways and different times. There’s the “There’s no way I did that,” period of denial. The “Shut up, there’s no way I did that,” anger directed at people who remind us of how stupid we were, followed by a “Well, if I did that, you did this,” level of denial, and it all culminates in some depressing acceptance, “I know what I did, but I was young and stupid.”

We try to convince ourselves that we were never so stupid that we did things for the sole purpose of impressing our peers. Our thoughts go to a form of confirmation bias that permits us to view such incidents in favorable terms that highlight when we did face peer pressure down during seminal moments in our life, and we conveniently forget those moments when pleasing our peers motivated us to do some pretty stupid things. We also infuse our current, more adult ideas on peer pressure with those of our youth.  

Psychologists say that we conveniently forget horrific, tragic moments for the purpose of attaining quality mental health. Anyone who has relived the horrific details of a tragic moment in their lives, thanks to a powerful drug such as a quality dose of morphine in the hospital, knows how and why the mind selectively remembers for proper mental health. Does the mind selectively selectively misremember stupid decisions we made in our youth in the same way, so that we can live with the belief that we’ve always made rational decisions? Does this power to forget help us progress toward a final outcome of improving the ego, the self-esteem, and what have you? Is it important that we forget if we want to progress?? If that’s the case, why do we remember it one night, staring up at the ceiling at three A.M., during a mean case of insomnia. Is it as simple as we can handle it now, or does it have something to do with this idea that we’ve reached a point, in our progress, where we need to grapple with the stupidity of our youth before we continue to progress. We know we might be reaching here, and over complicating matters, but we don’t understand why we remember how stupid and vulnerable to suggestion we were, at three A.M., after conveniently forgetting about our failures for decades. 

Perhaps it has something to with another clause we should invoke whenever we hear otherwise responsible adults tell tales of utter irresponsibility and outright stupidity from their youth, the “What doesn’t kill you can only make you stronger” clause. Perhaps we need a reminder every once in a while that we should be grateful we weren’t maimed in some mental or physical ways as a result of our stupidity. Perhaps we should be grateful that we’re here to tell these tales with a relatively sound mind and body. If we have a relationship with God, perhaps we should take a moment to thank Him that we survived. Regardless who we thank, we should think about the circumstances we survived, and think about how easily they could’ve gone the other way. When we hear about young kids doing stupid things that cost them their lives, we shouldn’t dismiss them solely on the basis that they were stupid. Dismissing someone as stupid allows the purveyor of such a proclamation a pass on everything they did in their youth, without accounting for all the incredibly stupid things they did, and they just happened to survive. We should consider ourselves lucky that we didn’t suffer a similar fate, and we should tell the otherwise responsible adults as much after they’re tale is complete.  

***

I know this is going to be an unpopular statement, but a part of what kept me from ruining my faculties with an exclamation point were the state and local laws. I was not scared of police in the truest sense, but I feared what they might do to me if I did something to deserve it. If a judge asked me if I had a problem with alcohol, I would’ve said no, and I would’ve believed it. If the judge asked me if my family had a history with alcohol. I would’ve said no. Both would’ve been lies, but I would’ve said them out of fear. Why would I lie, under oath, to a judge? Look at me, do you think I’d do well in jail, and I’ve probably added forty pounds in the last twenty-five years.

“Hey, you’ve put on some weight,” a former co-worker once said, after about a decade of separation.

“In the pantheon of greetings,” I joked, “that might’ve been one of the worst I ever heard.”

“No seriously, you look like a man now,” he said. “You used to be so skinny. You used to look like a little boy.”

Can you imagine a 21-year-old, 40-lb skinnier me walking past a yard of hooting and hollering inmates? I know, child molesters receive a penalty worse than death in jail, but can you imagine if a grown, legal-aged man with child-like, waifish features walked into cellblock among convicts wrestling to control their daily urges to violate purity? The fear of what could happen if I violated those state and local laws, combined with the fictional depictions I saw of life in prison, kept me in close proximity to the straight and narrow.

I was still so out of control and stupid with non-jailable offenses that I can’t believe I’m writing to you now with something in close proximity to a sound mind. We’ve all witnessed those who whose weight is so out of control that the flap that covers their zipper has been pushed back to expose their zipper. That was me, except my struggle didn’t involve weight. It was testosterone. I had testosterone all but pushing out my pores, and I never sought a proper channel for it. How many young men, 20-25 years-old, have the good sense to channel their energy and testosterone properly?

Now, our voting public, and our state and federal representatives are dissolving and diminishing laws that might otherwise control 20-25 year-old males, who struggle to control their testosterone-fueled dreams of ruining whatever remains of their relatively immature brains.

I’ve spent the better part of this article asking that we forgive and forget the shockingly immature things we did before age 25, but we’re deciding how to vote on ballot measures, it might be better for our nation, state, and locale to remember that respect and fear of the law we had that might be one of the primary reasons why we’re here to discuss these matters. Depending on what we did in our youth, the fear of an ultimate authority figure declaring us unfit to walk around with the law-abiding citizens might recede depending on how we vote. 

Ultimately, I was the good kid and the good young man in my group who didn’t want to harm anyone but himself. Even in my small cadre of friends, I was the exception. Punching other people who deserved it, and teaching them whatever lesson they could dream up was part of the party for my friends.   

This leads to a duality some of us have on law enforcement. We don’t want our law enforcement officials wasting their precious time chasing minor offenses minor offenses around, but we don’t want young people damaging themselves any more than we damaged our minds and bodies. Those of us of a certain age no longer think the law constitutes a nefarious plot to criminalize certain behaviors to prevent young people from having a good time, but we know how far we went to have a good time, somewhere just a smidge below what we knew the law allowed. We consider most state and local laws equivalent to a governor on an accelerator to prevent young people from crashing into the walls they erect for themselves. The argument some make is that some laws make no sense anymore, but I would argue that they’re making such a declaration as a fully developed, mature adult, who is no longer as interested in skimming just under the tentative line of lawbreaking. Some argue that one law is just as bad as the other, and in some cases they’re worse, so let’s do away with a number of them, or redefine them. That argument is equivalent to suggesting that we should start our grills with white gas, because it has a flashpoint of 25 degrees, and to really get the flame going, we should add some diesel fuel, because it has a flashpoint of 126 degrees.

Some advocates of such laws worry about the children, but that’s an argument for another day. I worry about the 21-25 year-old youngsters who pursue the idea of doing whatever they want, now that they’re old enough.

This article isn’t about one law, because there are now so many of them with which I now have some concerns. This isn’t about a series of laws devoted to one topic, for it were the advocates of the behavior might pop out of the woodwork to to focus on that topic. They would probably declare me a hypocrite for indulging in the very topic for which I now oppose. I’ll say it for them, I am now a full-fledged hypocrite, and I feel fine. I still feel the pull of my anti-law youth all the time, but I know that certain laws help us define borders. If the themes of the parties I attended in my youth continue to this day, there is a lot of talk of laws. There is a lot of talk about the vague language of such laws, and how they can be exploited. We talked a lot about local, state, and federal laws, so we could know how far to push it. We wanted to live just under that line. We also knew that there was a range of violation that most law enforcement officials weren’t going to waste their time processing. Increase the range, and we increase the level of violation.  

***

As a product of permissive parenting, I could do pretty much whatever I wanted from about 15 on, but when my friends reached the age where they could do whatever they wanted, I went into overdrive.

“Are you going to the bar tonight?”

“Does the pope attend religious services?”

Our definition of being a man involved going out to the bar with the buddies and getting hammered. We didn’t invent this rite of passage. When we were young, we learned of the correlation between being drunk and being manly, don’t spread the word. We were expected to test our tolerance level every week, and we didn’t concern ourselves about failing too much, because we knew there would be a make-up test next weekend, and every weekend thereafter. Our part-time job, if we chose to accept it, and everyone we knew did, was to increase our tolerance level to the point that we might one day be like Sam Nigro in the corner over there.

“Sam can drink a gallon of beer and show no effects,” we whispered to one another, as if he was the warrior Achilles. “I saw him do it over at Pete’s house about a month ago. He drinks MD 20/20 like it’s Kool-Aid.” Sam was our Jabba the Hut. He would just sit on his proverbial pedestal with an aura of invincibility that no one could define, but no one dared challenge. He was also invulnerable to our drunken powers of suggestion, because no matter how many juicy frog drinks he downed, he never had so much as a buzz.    

No one got so hammered that a fight broke out at one of my parties. There was no sex that weekend, and no DUIs. We were all very disappointed. The next time I tried to plan a party I received polite non-committals. There was just something about the atmosphere of my apartment, the climate, or something that just didn’t invite a level of insanity to which we all grew accustomed.    

The older, more responsible citizens of various states see no problem with updating and modernizing archaic laws, because they’ve grown out of various stages. They can live their lives responsibly no matter how many temptations they update, modernize, and legalize, but as a byproduct of that they help pass laws that now allow the 21-25 year-old maniacs with testosterone dripping out of their pores, all the freedom they seek. They do make an exception for driving an automobile while intoxicated. Those are the only laws that are much stricter than they were when I was young. So, we’re now allowing our 21-25 male demo to indulge beyond their wildest dreams, and when I say dreams I’m talking literally staying up at night imagining at the ceiling that one day (like Jiminy Cricket sang) all of our dreams can come true. We’re talking about a 22 year-olds indulging beyond capacity and having the good sense not to drive home.

Now that I’m boring, old, and unflinchingly hypocritical, I hope that you’ll join me in helping me ease the decades long cringe I’ve had regarding all of the incredibly stupid things I did to tarnish my good name. Having said that, I don’t think we should help the 20-25 demographic do dumber things by diminishing and dissolving more laws that might destroy them. We tell our old people to update and modernize their thinking, and they do, but the final argument I make on this topic is to ask these modern, old people if they’re making their country, state and locale better by updating laws and choosing modern representatives? Other, older people, who have sowed their wild oats, fear being called old fogies and hypocrites, but I ask them what they would do if these new laws were passed when they were young, destructive, and self-destructive? It’s tough to remember the mindset, but if any sort of anatomical, or financial, destruction did enter my mind at the time, it wasn’t even a tertiary concern. I always thought I knew what I was doing, but now that I’m old and un-apologetically hypocritical, I now know I didn’t. I’ve now gone full circle in acknowledging that I was young and stupid.

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