The other day I was sitting down for lunch with a group of students, when I saw on my phone (we were all checking our phones at the time, so don’t think me outright rude) that the Opposition Leader Bill Shorten was advocating lowering the voting age to 16. I mentioned this aloud to the students (some of whom were under 18), and asked them their thoughts.
It was mixed. (I am for, just in case anyone’s interested). Some considered it a good idea to offset the growing influence of the retired voting block, a block which increases with every medical advancement. Others wondered whether 16 year olds cared or were informed enough to vote responsibly. This led us to discuss how can we guarantee anyone’s care and responsibility regardless of age, and from that the virtues of compulsory voting. It was a really fun lunchtime discussion.
What surprised me, however, from the exchange was that most of the students arguing against lowering the age were under 18, the very people who will benefit from the change. Why was this the case? Was it because they doubt themselves? Their classmates? Their friends? Do they not know that there are sausage sizzles and bake sales at voting booths (oh, and of course the sweet aroma of democracy in action)? It seemed to be a bit of everything (ok, not the aroma of democracy).
We are often hardest on our own kind. Our expectations tend to be lowered because we have first hand experience of our own fallibility. One 16 year old feels guilty for not knowing how the process works or who our current Prime Minister is (though, hard to blame them on that one) and they project this onto the rest of their juvenile compatriots and deem that all are unready. I think this trend often extends to how Christians treat other Christians. Sometimes the lowering of expectations helps bring them closer to reality – for instance ministers will often expect less of other ministers because they know their own shortcomings and the weight caused by lofty congregational expectations.
Other times this process is less helpful. These are the times when we grow sceptical of anyone putting herself or himself out there; where we suspect ulterior motives of anyone who makes too bold a claim; or where we scoff at those speaking with untarnished idealism. Sometimes our own self-awareness, our guilt over our misgivings and shortcomings can be projected outwards onto others who we identify with (or who share similar identity markers). While this can lead to empathy and the building blocks of a relationship, it also sometimes makes it hard to believe the best in a person.
Perhaps this is why Jesus said that a prophet is loved everywhere but their hometown – for the people who grew up around Jesus, who played with him in the fields, or watched him learn his trade; those who experienced similar formative experiences, and knew all too well the limitations of their influence on the wider Roman Empire – those people (with all of that awareness) may have found it just too difficult to believe that one so like them, could be so different.