By Sarah Sladek –
It’s happening again.
Eight years ago I authored a blog on what was being referred to as “the big global crack up”.
In nations throughout the world – Spain, China, Germany, Britain, and the United States, to name a few – economies were unable to generate enough jobs to absorb their young people, creating generations of disaffected, unemployed, or underemployed for which the world had little to offer.
The youth revolted.
Protests erupted throughout the world. Notably, thousands of students in England demonstrated against a government move to enable the country’s universities to triple tuition fees, and the Arab youth bulge led a charge that overthrew dictators in Egypt, Tunisia, Yemen, and Libya within a matter of months.
At the time, the former Italian Prime Minister Giuliano Amato said: “The older generations have eaten the future of the younger ones.”
Mark Goulston, then Vice Chairman of Steele Partners, wrote: “If you look around you at the different generations, you will see that a revolution is brewing. But it is not brewing between democratic and totalitarian regimes. It is between generations.”
In 2011, nothing in the world was stable, similar, or secure – especially for the world’s youth.
As the end of 2019 approaches, it would seem history is repeating itself.
Teenagers in the U.S. are organizing against gun violence, students in Hong Kong are battling for democratic representation, young people from South America to Europe are agitating for remaking the global economy, and youth worldwide are advocating for climate action.
In the past year-and-a-half, 16-year-old Greta Thurnberg has addressed heads of state at the U.N., met with the Pope, sparred with the President of the United States, and inspired 4 million people to join the global climate strike on September 20, 2019, in what was the largest climate demonstration in history. Because of her, hundreds of thousands of teenagers from Lebanon to Liberia, have skipped school to lead their peers in climate strikes around the world.
As the writers of her Time Person of the Year profile so eloquently put it, Greta Thurnberg is a reminder that the people in charge now will not be in charge forever, and that the young people who are inheriting dysfunctional governments, broken economies, and an increasingly unlivable planet know just how much the adults have failed them.
Some leaders are taking notice. After Thurnberg spoke to British Parliament, the U.K. passed a law requiring the country eliminate its carbon footprint.
French President Emmanuel Macron told Time, “When you are a leader and every week you have young people demonstrating with such a message, you cannot remain neutral. They helped me change.”
Since leaving the White House, former President Barack Obama and former First Lady Michelle Obama have set up a foundation mentoring young leaders around the world. At a foundation event last week, he emphasized that he believes in passing the torch to a younger generation of leaders. “If you look at the world and look at the problems it’s usually old people, usually old men, not getting out of the way.” he stated.
There are pockets of hope out there, but still many leaders ignore younger generations and their calls for change.
Next year will be decisive in terms of climate change alone: the E.U. is planning to tax imports from countries that don’t tackle climate change; China will draft its development plans for the next five years; and the U.S. presidential election will determine whether the leader of the free world continues to ignore the science of climate change.
Will change happen? Or perhaps the better question to consider is, what will happen if change doesn’t happen?
According to Thomas Jefferson, every generation needs a revolution. While it’s true that throughout history many revolutions have been inspired by the youngest generations, there have never been global uprisings on this scale.
Youth everywhere are hungry for a chance to be heard, to be safe, and to thrive. Their calls to action are heart-wrenching, shameful, and urgent.
Last fall, the United Nations launch Youth 2030, a strategy which urged leaders to stop working for youth and to start working with youth. Inviting young people to decision-making tables, listening to their opinions and ideas, teaching them, encouraging them to lead – these are all ways in which we can begin to forge learning, community, and problem-solving and ensure we create a better world for our children and our children’s children.
The U.N.’s request reminds me of the Masai tribe. Among the most accomplished and fabled tribes of Africa, no tribe was considered to have warriors more fearsome or more intelligent than the Masai. It is perhaps surprising, then, to learn the traditional greeting that passed between Masai warriors was: “And how are the children?”
It is still the traditional greeting among the Masai, acknowledging the high value that the Masai always place on their children’s well-being. Even warriors with no children of their own would always give the traditional answer, “All the children are well.” Meaning, of course, that peace and safety prevail, that the priorities of protecting the young, the powerless, are in place. “All the children are well” means that life is good. It means that the daily struggles for existence do not preclude proper caring for their young.
And how are the children in the rest of the world? Are they well?
This is the question every leader should ask, because the actions we take today inevitably influence future generations.
As the dawn of a new year approaches, I urge you to make a resolution to see the world through the eyes of children. Through the eyes of the children we see our legacies. And if you’re not filled with joy by what you see, then do something about it. Do it now before it’s too late.
The sooner we realize that we need each other and make this more about collaboration and less about power, the sooner we all will experience civil rest and prosperity.