TED Conversations

Alex Blanes

Student, Vancouver Island University


This conversation is closed.

How can we cultivate courageous, non-violent dialogue between youth and power?

Today, August 12th, 2011, the United Nations' "International Year of Youth" draws to a close. It has been a very interesting year—one of the biggest in recent history for youth-instigated riots, uprisings and revolutions. Perhaps not what Ban Ki-Moon had in mind when he made the statement, "Youth should be given a chance to take an active part in the decision-making of local, national and global levels"!

However, I believe their initial intention to sponsor "Dialogue and Mutual Understanding" between the young and the elite was, and is, a very important one. In fact, I would argue that many of the riots this past year could be attributed to a very profound lack of communication between youth and power.

I believe that if we lack a healthy relationship between ourselves and the unknown, it's difficult to be courageous. The young people of today, myself included, do not have any healthy way of relating to the unknown, seemingly mindless politics of their elders. This is why so many young people lash out—it is their violent form of questioning the silent authority. Neither method is indicative of a real conversation.

So my question is this: how can we stimulate a courage that is constructive, based on communication and positive risk, and not merely on reckless deconstruction of the old paradigms (which is not truly courageous at all)? How do we reconcile the passion and novelty of youth with the sensibility and experience of older generations? How do we enable youth to challenge their leaders, and how do we solicit leaders to challenge their youth—in a mutually respectful dialectic? How do we inspire youth to follow the wise words of Buckminster Fuller: "You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete"?


Showing single comment thread. View the full conversation.

  • thumb
    Aug 11 2011: Courage isn't destructive - it's one of the things that keeps people from being destructive. Perhaps most importantly, courage isn't a skill, it's a decision. The decision to be courageous becomes easy when the focus isn't on you, but something greater than self - a principle, cause, movement, vision, etc. What youth is lacking has little to do with talent, drive, ability, skill, etc., but everything to do with a lack of mentoring. This debate is really about a lack of engaged leaders, more than courage. All generations have much to learn from one another and the only thing keeping this catalytic collaboration from taking place is pride, ego, arrogance, and apathy. I've long said that there is more to be learned from dissenting opinions, positions and perspectives than there is to be learned from like minds. If you really want change, look beyond yourself, avoid intellectually dishonest rhetoric, and seek out those whom you act as both student and teacher. I'll leave you with this thought - apathy is mediocrity's most valuable asset, and the greatest liability for those looking to find significance.
    • thumb
      Aug 12 2011: Resonant concord. Thank you for your contribution, and for teaching me something today. I believe that more than anything, the youth of today—my peers—are crying out for real mentors.
    • Aug 12 2011: Great thoughts Mike, might I alter one thing you said "This debate is really about a lack of engaged leaders" how about engaged AND engaging. . .

      there is a distance between the generations and much of that comes from percieved distance the younger put there as well. . . like Sheryl Sandberg itterated in her talk- we need to allow ourselves to 'sit at the table' regardless of these percieved dividers!
    • thumb
      Aug 12 2011: Mike--

      Agreed that courage does not require destructive rhetoric or behaviors. It does require critical thinking, however, which might not be welcome.

      I like your point about mentoring. I also think leaders engaging with developing leaders is critical. These relationships are most productive for both mentor and mentee when they are construed more as a partnership than act of somewhat condescending "compassion" or passing on his/her lessons while tapping the younger leaders ideas for his/her work by the mentor.

      These are more dialogic relationships. Wherein, to echo your themes: the developing leader is seen by both as both teacher and student. This takes a "balancing of the egos" effect. And rarely perfectly even or tit-for-than transactional. Its more asymmetrical. The point is both recognize they are both developing together, as individuals and as partners.

      One of the richest experiences I've had with this is when a a colleague, who was coaching my civic skills was willing to follow my lead on an initiative. His ability to set aside ego and quite seriously follow my lead was transformative. What was remarkable was that we have very processes--and this particular one I was introducing was about as different from his way of doing things as possible. And my idea was, to say least, audacious, if not a bit outlandish.

      He has shared with me that what was "in" it for him was not idle experimentation. Though he can be quite generous with his time, he's also exceedingly and beyond busy--can't and won't afford extraneous distractions. His willingness to invest in this effort of mine was related to the relationship we'd developed. Which gave him some evidence of my energies for the engagement I was proposing.

      This gets to your point re: apathy. Co-focused passions can have a compounding effect, even if people's views and/or processes are quite different. As long as both parties see action and outcomes as primary.

      • thumb
        Aug 13 2011: Andrea I agree with you about the critical thinking. More accuratelly: the lack of critical thinking, the "be so nice" with the political statements or with the opportunities to see the real moment to change something. The so called youth is a concept without boundaries...to be youth from when to when.?
        Then the actual youth is lack of form because a lot of people want to be youth forever with their Peter Pan syndrome, avoiding social responsabilities and with a high ignorance to see how they were really manipulated. The abscense of critical skills become inside the colorfull pack of entertainement. And in contemporary times with the abstract manipulation fron the "so called" social networks. I really believe that the youth has to be reinventes and redefines, but not with the destructive aim from violence (London or Chile for example).Why we dont see again to the "old" paradigms of youthood? Maybe we are loosing the oportunity to rededefining the happines if we keep out of focus.
        • thumb
          Aug 13 2011: Luigi --

          I think both leaders and citizens can suffer from Peter Pan syndrome. Leaders can sound serious while meanwhile adapting their own social responsibilities avoidance.

          To carry the metaphor, this would be akin to some of Captain Hooks' comrades. He might actually have some serious lack-of-consience cojones, but all many really have beneath all their huffing and puffing is an arrested development fantasy to play pirates with him so they get some of his gold booty.

          While they have meanwhile little consciousness of how much real pillaging they are doing in the process.


Showing single comment thread. View the full conversation.