A first letter to Darren

I don't know Darren and he doesn't know me. Nevertheless I'm writing him this letter and perhaps future letters in the hope it may help him or her to better understand  the world and the way of life he or she has inherited ('him or her' because Darren could be of either gender.)

Dear Darren

I'm not going to tell you anything about me, but you can call me Socrates if you like. After the philosopher, not the Brazillian midfielder.

Socrates,  philosopher: one of the founders of Western thinking; lived around 400 BC. Disdained money. Lived and died in his 80's, poor. Concluded that, while people thought they knew a great deal and therefore considered themselves wise, in fact they knew very little and were not wise at all. He himself knew he was not wise at all, which, paradoxically, made him the wiser one since he was the only person aware of his own ignorance. Socrates' paradoxical wisdom incurred the wrath of the State and brought him to trial on charges of corrupting (the thinking) of youth. At the end: at his trial, when Socrates was asked to propose his own punishment, he suggested a wage paid by the government and free dinners for the rest of his life. He was nevertheless found guilty and sentenced to death by poison: a fate he could have escaped but seemed to have warmly embraced.

Darren, you are sixteen going on seventeen. You think you might have achieved two B grades and one A grade - in English. Good luck with that.
You have an enquiring mind though not necessarily a creative one. Physically strong enough, sport is attractive but you don't often participate.
You consider yourself to be competitive. Although thus far a follower, you feel the need to be a leader.
You are curious about the world and secretly frightened of it or by it. Unsure of where you fit in or if you fit in. Instinctively you distrust the path ahead, the one laid out for you by your parents and 'society' at large, but you don't see any options to that awful old getting a job (with or without having gone to university), then fast forward into the dark chambers of marriage, children, property ladder, career scrambling, retirement and - oh no oh yes - the great big D.
There's safety in numbers so you always want to be part of the in-crowd yet for sexual gratification reasons you want to be seen as yourself alone by someone of the opposite sex - perhaps more than one, perhaps the more the merrier. I am assuming of course that you are heterosexual. And yes, you want to have fun, whatever she may be.
Darren, the first and most important matter in your mind right now is about trying for University entrance. Nearly all of your school friends want to go on to one but ...  you? Why? Let's indulge ourselves in some exploratory rationalisation ...
  • To get a better job and make more money, therefore have a more comfortable life? Perhaps, perhaps not. I'm guessing that three or four out of the five self-made multimillionaires sitting in front of the applicants in Dragon's Den never saw the inside of any University. And we've all known graduates nobody seems to want to employ.
  • To delay for as long as possible the plunge into adult life? Perfectly understandable. And no risk of that humiliating rejection / dole queue, at least for the three or more years.
  • Purely for the sake of  academia : knowledge and understanding? Almost all of the great scientists of history learned, then developed their theories within those marbled halls. Notable exception the daddy of them all, Albert Einstein, who clashed with authorities over teaching method and later wrote that the spirit of creative thought was lost in learning by rote. And if it's of any comfort to you at this juncture, both Darwin and Newton had a job getting themselves accepted into University. By contrast, the national poets / playrights / songsters of England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland did not find it difficult to forego - or had no opportunity to secure the kind of further education of which you are thinking.
  • To have better fun? Oh, yes.
What are your options, were you not to go to 'Uni' as these days it is called?
  • You can stay at home and draw State benefit if your family is unable or unwilling fully to support you. This seems easiest but is in fact the toughest option.A couple of years of  useless subsistence living with mummy and daddy can lead to alienation or murder most foul.
  • You can leave home, try to find a life of some kind. Hey ho for adventure but high risk of serious discomfort.
  • You can find yourself a job, any job. Walk down any road in your local commercial / industrial area, knock on every door, tell them who you are and what you think you can offer them and ask for work. Any work. Someone - maybe the first or maybe the hundredth - will hire you. Hurrah! At last you have a value on the face of mother earth, however lowly. You'll learn how to work with strangers, to get on with them and even to like them. The money will be important but that latter is more so and is the key to both the door marked contentment and the one marked prosperity. It is also the key to the door labelled 'unremarkable'. 
  • You can try to enlist in one of the uniformed services.  This is simply exchanging the umberella called home for the one called army/navy/airforce. A great life if you have no problem obeying without question and killing people in the name of the State, (few have any problem so why should you). Very secure until your services are no longer required by the service and once again you have to confront the world solo. 
  • You can make something people might want to buy and then sell it. Preferably something unique but if not unique then making a better mousetrap or selling it better than the others. Or instead of making a product you can offer a service. Clean your car?
Of course with any of these options you need not and should never cease to learn. One of the few great shining stars of recent times is the thing with which your generation has grown up. The thing through which you read this. Just imagine the wisdom of that old man Socrates, had he been able to access the Internet!

So, the ball's still in your court, Darren. Let me know what you think?


An old man called Socrates

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