A positive new year message
In these times of grim uncertainty, facing permatanned presidential lunacy on one side and black flagged killers on the other, amongst all the other gloom ridden headlines, we could do with something positive to start the new year off. I may be able to do little to help us fend off the perils of the turbulent year ahead of us but my travels in recent years have at least given me one source of hope for the slightly more distant future: young people.
Wherever I have gone, regardless of race, region or religion, I have been inspired by the outlook of many in the younger generation who have embraced education and the electronic age to think beyond the confines that often shackled their parents to simply repeating the life of their own parents. This may be no surprise when looking at Western kids, even people in their thirties were brought up with computing as the norm. Elsewhere, poverty, dictatorship, poor education, instability and other factors have denied many such an easy route to the globalised, hi-tech world but it is becoming increasingly less so. I have young African friends brought up in mud and timber shacks in remote villages who now have the kind of international world view that can compete with their Western counterparts but it is one that has not had the luxury of being able to overindulge in frivolities, divorced from the hard realities of life.
Increasingly, the young are thinking of travel, work, life and even love abroad. Trying to sell the constricting narratives of nationalism and repressive political or cultural ideologies to this generation is becoming harder and often unsustainable. When parents, clergy and politicians used to tell you how things were you had few sources of information to contradict that, no matter how unfair you thought it might be. Now, the power to say “fuck you”, is only a click away. These kind of processes fed into the Arab Spring, although it may largely have failed for the moment, once people have summoned up the courage to say “no”, it is not easily forgotten. These events were only part of a much longer story to come.
Many may feel they are more being pushed by events in their own countries towards foreign lands, rather than drawn by the desire to explore but others are inspired to stay and play an active role in their country’s future, instead of glumly and passively accepting the situation. These are the people who will make up civil society and politics in the world’s future and determine the mindset of the coming decades. Wherever you go these young people have so much in common with others of the same generation around the world and increasingly they are getting in contact with each other. Sometimes contact may be through formal initiatives like student exchanges or conferences but even online gamers are sharing experiences and ideas far beyond football and shooting baddies.
Kids are listening to foreign music, watching foreign films and meeting us travelers, learning how life can be different in other parts of the world. Most importantly for all you travelers out there is to realise that this is a two-way process. It’s about learning from each other in a way that accepts that all our ways of life have both good and bad values in them. As a wise old Facebook meme once said, “other cultures are not failed attempts at your own”. Young people in other lands may be eager to celebrate what appears good in our own countries but be humble enough to recognise that you will learn better ways of doing things from them, I certainly have done. Take the importance we place on the individual for example, it’s probably why you can confidently get on a plane on your own and step out into a distant land full of wonder, not fear at what you may find. But, it is also why you might find in many parts of the world having to explain what an old people’s home is and why a family might rarely visit a parent once they have been placed there. It’s often from the most demanding of lives that we can learn values we can take home with us.
I cannot guarantee a future of peace and prosperity for all but there are a lot of kids out there who share a vision of a better world that puts people before power and compassion before cash. They deserve our support, as our older generations have left them a whole heap of shit to deal with, uncaring of whoever is going to have to clear up the mess.