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Alex Blanes

Student, Vancouver Island University


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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"?


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  • Aug 13 2011: I'm not sure how useful it is to talk about "the youth" as an homogeneous collective. One of the clear signs that has come out of the UK riots last week is that there as many young people outraged by the riots as there were opportunistic criminals of many different ages, classes, races and backgrounds.

    What did strike me about the UK riots was all media commentary was made by establishment figures, MPs, police commissioners even youth leaders but there was no-one commenting who would make an impact on those youths who were carrying out the rioting, therefore whatever was would be instantly ignored. In that respect, I think it is an issue of communication, but not what is said but how it is said and through what methods.

    This issue goes beyond a youth/power divide in the respect of who and who is not disenfranchised. Again, power, influence and privilege is as much around class, social status and background as it is age.

    There is also a high degree of expectation management to be had as "youth" occupy fundamentally different informal social structures to those that adults (mostly) happily slot into. This is also true of what concerns the majority of youthful energy. If one were to collect all energy generated by young people, realistically what percentage would be concerned with issues of social leadership, development etc and how much of it would be concentrating on sex, friendships, fun, testing boundaries etc?

    All the youth led changes that have happened have had a high degree of crowd psychology at the heart of them, which we know to be fundamentally different to how individuals operate - excellent discussion of that here: http://www.bbc.co.uk/i/b0132p8c/

    Something that is, in my opinion, strictly to do with age is world view - Is it about finding middle ground between two opposing world views and weighing up the relative importance of the issues that need resolving? But how do you get participants to understand the other point of view?

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