Youth is wasted on the young

Posted by Smokey Stover on April 06, 2006

In Reply to: Youth is wasted on the young posted by Brian from Shawnee on April 05, 2006

: : I need to know the meaning of youth is wasted on the young. what does that actually mean?

: You must be young. It means young people are full of energy and vitality but they fritter away opportunity after opportunity to put their talents to good use, preferring to spend their time playing video games and other pointless pursuits. The idea that "youth is wasted on the young" probably came to someone in their 30's as they got up to feed the baby at 2:00AM knowing they had to get up for work in 4 hours. The new parent must have wondered how it was so easy in college to party until 2:00 and get up for an 8:00 class like it was no big deal. Now just a few short years later they can barely function without a full 8 hours' sleep. At least, that's how I imagine this phrase may have come about. I'm sure the idea goes back thousands of years.

The idea may go back thousands of years, but the quotation goes back to George Bernard Shaw, or so everyone believes. (I have been unable to determine in which play it is found.) Another Shavian way of saying it is "Youth is a wonderful thing. What a crime to waste it on children."

Shaw liked to be paradoxical and contrary, and the paradox here is obvious. From middle age onward we observe the energy, strength and enthusiasm of young people and think, "What I could do with those. Now that I have some wisdom and maturity, I could put those qualities to good use and make something of them, rather than squandering them in childish carelessness." The paradox is, of course, that if we were allowed to be youths once again we would do exactly what we did then, and squander our youth (as it seems now) just as we did then. Of course, Shaw knew perfectly well the inherent fallacies of this and other of his dicta, but he enjoyed turning a phrase based on the painful contradictions of life. SS