Sunday, August 8

“Think not forever of yourselves, O Chiefs, nor of your own generation. Think of continuing generations of our families, think of our grandchildren and of those yet unborn, whose faces are coming from beneath the ground.” Peacemaker, founder of the Iroquois Confederacy, (ca. 1000 AD)

(Like the For Gaza post on July 9, this post is in support of Bloggers Unite, a blogger cooperative in support of several blog-worthy subjects throughout the year. Today’s post is specifically in support of International Youth Day, August 12, 2010.)

I’m a 43-year old guy with no kids of my own. Raised as an adopted child in what ended up being a broken home, and with a somewhat less-than-mainstream perspective, I grew up a little sour on the idea of having kids. I saw an exploding global population that didn’t need any extra human units, was afraid of doing to children some of what I’d experienced, and just never felt that overwhelming urge to pass on my genes.

I have, however, tried to find my own ways to influence generations subsequent to my own over the years. I’ve coached hockey, worked with ‘at-risk’ children in foster care and their own broken homes, volunteered with youth and even now, while I’m admittedly self-focused on completing the novel that is at the foundation of my life-inversion, I volunteer at a local climbing gym working with birthday and school groups. I’m also fortunate to be friends with the son of a close friend, a 15-year old young man I met 4 years ago with whom I share a love of goaltending.

My close friend was courageous enough to send that young friend out for a few days visit last week. I was honored enough back in the day when she picked me to be a ‘positive influence’, more honored when he decided to gift me his friendship, and floored that the friendship is still of any interest to him. I consider it a responsibility, this opportunity to have even a small say into the life of an intelligent, caring, funny and talented 15-year old. That close friend has done a great job of parenting herself (leaving me wondering what there is for me to contribute), but I’ve appreciated the chance to be a friend, to help him with his goaltending (in whatever small way I can do that), to talk about his education and hopes and dreams, and even discuss something else we both seem to appreciate – writing fiction. We hung out, talked about all of the above and I spent an afternoon introducing him to another love of mine – climbing. There was no pressure, just being friends. I hope that he enjoyed it as much as I did.

Because my head works in a certain way, I was and am reminded in such moments that we live in a world that needs help and that he and his peers will the ones to whom falls most of the responsibility to try to fix things. There are things we can, should and must do now, today, but most of the real solutions are over my temporal horizon, somewhere wonderful beyond my allotted 80 to 100 or so years. Seeing a real solution to problems like inequality, racism, carbon emissions, ecological degradation, political corruption, corporate and social greed, war, etcetera, etcetera, won’t come in my lifetime.

Don’t get me wrong - we need to start actually taking the steps to start the change that needs to take place now, but it’s going to take our generation and the next, and probably the next after that for any fundamental change to truly happen.

So yeah, obviously, I think our youth are pretty important.

They are smarter than we are, more open to change, less aware of cultural and racial differences and more aware of the things that we have in common. They think our greed and bigotry are stupid and foolish. They have a healthy skepticism that will serve them well if they can also remain hopeful. They have a hatred of lies and love of truth that is inspiring.

The truth that they embrace imperils our generation’s commitment to greed and avarice. Their truth scares the shit out of us, and we’re far better at denial than change. They’re uneasy with the complacency and self-centeredness that typifies our generation. They’re interested in solutions and critical thought. For as long as our species has been passing wisdom from one generation to another, we’ve been encouraging the next generation to not make the same mistakes as we did, and to consider the generations that will come after them as they make choices. It’s a concept that, frankly, our species gives a lot of lip service to, but generally fails to honor. But I remain hopeful.

The other day a friend asked her Facebook universe how it is we might imagine raising our children so that they will think self-critically and be more empathic than our generation is proving to be and more than the one before us was. The conversation ended up in a place where the concept of generational solutions seemed more viable and rational than any unrealistic hope that we might affect profound change within our own generation. Not that anyone felt that abdicating responsibility to the next generation was appropriate, but that the job was too big for the few that see it, and that the change would have to be manifested in a new generation of empowered and educated humans. Our realization was that we have to do all that we can now, but that too many people are too invested in denial, in simply not seeing the truth, to ‘get there’ in one generation. So while we have to ‘do’ now, we need to pragmatically focus on the next generation and actually encourage a profound generation gap that creates a better species.

They have some advantages, the ‘next generation’: Our technological age of global connectedness has taught them, far better than we seem to have learned, that it’s a small planet. They know that the other side of the world is part of their world. Our social myopathy and ecological hubris seems ignorant and illogical to them. They have grown up with friends from around the world, from different religions and cultures and socio-economic circumstances, and they don’t recognize our small-mindedness as viable anymore.

My young friend is certainly this way. He’s still young, but his heart and mind are already miles ahead of where I was at his age. He understands the importance of an absence of borders; of equal opportunities for all; of the possibilities inherent in inclusion.

Honestly, I have a fear that we will fail them completely and leave them no further ahead in terms of vision than we are, and with a deeper hole to dig the species out of. I fight it, but it’s there. I have no fear of what they can do though. They’re the hope that keeps me young.

International Youth Day is August 12. Pass something positive forward.

(UPDATE: While writing this, I listened to an interview with economist and author Jeremy Rifkin on CBC 1. His latest book, The Empathic Civilization – the Race to Global Consciousness in a World in Crisis, recognizes the requirement for a generational shift. He suggests that the fundamental shift that has to occur will require a recognition that the age of enlightenment concepts of extreme individualism, competition and social Darwinism are leading us to economic and social bankruptcy; that only a society that embraces the need to cooperate and recognize our inter-connectedness – that embraces empathy – will be able to survive the challenges that currently face the global society. Just for reference…)