The world we live in is a scary one. Society is starkly divided into two warring camps – are you May or Corbyn, Trump or Sanders? Left- and right-wing factions are becoming increasingly militant in the face of alarming and seemingly insuperable societal and environmental problems. Inequality and poverty are at an all-time high. Climate change is getting to the point of being irreversible. Corporations that are bigger than countries are taking over, often with little regard for this vulnerable planet of ours or the people living on it. In short, it’s not a pretty picture. And we’ve got nobody to blame but ourselves.
So what hope do we have left? The answer has got to be the next generation. We’ve got to look to the kids and try to lead them down a different path than the destructive ones we’ve taken.
In my opinion, the first step on this path is understanding and awareness. I know it’s a cliché but knowledge really is power. It’s very easy to go through life without engaging with important issues in a meaningful way. Most young people get their news from social media now, so glossing over issues that are uncomfortable or ostensibly uninteresting is par for the course. Add to this the increasingly stark divisions in society, and it’s feasible to imagine a world where people of different social classes never actually meet. Empathy comes naturally to humans, but only for people that we feel a connection with. True empathy is rare between groups who have barely had any contact, never mind any meaningful interactions.
I was lucky enough to be brought up in a privileged environment. I had the world’s most middle-class childhood with two supportive parents, enough money, food and clothes provided for me, and basically no worries. However, my parents are both fabulous and principled people. They both worked in education, teaching and working with young people from disadvantaged backgrounds and fighting constantly to give them the same lives they were able to provide for their daughter. This meant I was constantly aware that my delightful existence was by no means the norm. I worked hard at school but I also had no obstacles in my path – I didn’t have to have a part-time job, my parents could help me with my homework, I didn’t need to help look after siblings or care for a sick relative, I never had to worry about my parents not coming home in the evening, I was never trying to get by without eating or washing or sleeping in a comfortable bed. From a young age, I heard stories of children who had suffered atrocities that even adults would struggle to overcome, who had witnessed murder and torture, who had travelled across continents alone to escape persecution, who had to raise their siblings in the place of their drug addicted parents, who had to learn English in just two years to be able to pass their GCSEs. Overcoming those odds is no easy task, and while there are plenty of examples of incredible human beings who succeed despite everything, most don’t. I know I wouldn’t have if put in that position.
Just knowing about the existence of different sections of society is a start, but I believe that giving children the opportunity to play with and work with all of their peers is vital. Children don’t have prejudices, and with these experiences, they are far more likely to grow into empathetic adults who care about every type of person, and feel passionate about striving for equality.
As well as experiences, I think there is a place for education as well. Despite ending up working in the third sector, I never received any careers advice pointing me in that direction. Never once did I hear any acknowledgement of the fantastic roles available at charities, at social enterprises, or in CSR and sustainability departments at large companies. I would love to see these jobs celebrated as a valid and prestigious career path, rather than as a ‘nice thing to do’.
Including sustainability, climate change, responsible business, social enterprise, and innovation in the charity sector on standard school curricula would also be a hugely positive change. And I don’t just mean telling kids to save water by having a shower instead of a bath or to be nice to their friends. Children are capable of a much deeper level of understanding than that and we should be engaging with them on the real issues we face and working with them to come up with interesting and effective solutions that we can all get involved with.
Another solution is getting kids out volunteering from a young age. There are so many benefits: they will have an impressive set of extra-curricular activities to help them get into the schools and universities they aspire to, it’s a great activity to do together as a family, it’s a safe and productive way to teach your children about the issues present in our society, and it normalises actively trying to make a positive change in the world.
Being honest about the very serious problems we are all facing is essential. But rather than scare-mongering, we should be giving children the knowledge and confidence to feel like they can be agents for change in the world. Maybe then we will have some hope of getting our world back on track.
If you’re interested in learning more about this topic, check out this report.
If you have any questions, or would like any support with finding volunteering opportunities, please get in touch: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Post by Rose Delfino, Community Development & Marketing Manager at thirdbridge.