Our future is in the hands of young people, and they are good hands

By Bernadette Meaden
December 23, 2019

For people who believe in a compassionate society and progressive politics, these winter days can feel very dark indeed. With a climate emergency, glaring inequality, and governments from the UK to the USA, and from India to Brazil promoting the politics of dishonesty and division, it is very easy to conclude that the future looks bleak. But, despite everything, I think we should have hope – because I look at our children and young people, and think they are probably far better than we deserve. 

The most visible example of this is of course Greta Thunberg, a virtually powerless young woman  who, simply by sitting on the steps of the Swedish parliament with a home made placard, began a global movement of young people determined to protect the planet – protect it against the dominant brand of politics and economics that has failed them so spectacularly.

Greta is now the famous face of a generation which seems well-informed, public-spirited, and compassionate. During the recent UK general election campaign, it was striking to see how, when young people were involved in the debate, they were often more knowledgeable, inclusive and reasonable than the older generation.

And happily, young people are not just talking about their beliefs, they are acting upon them, around the world and up and down the country. Some are doing so in organised ways, like the Advocacy Academy in South London, a social justice movement of young people which boldly declares, “We will not be inheriting this mess. We will be fixing it.”

Others are acting spontaneously as individuals. In the last few days, whilst it felt like the whole country had gone into a consumerist Christmas shopping meltdown, one Mum tweeted: “So I let my daughters go off together for 30 minutes to choose some surprises for our family secret Santa. They came back having spent their money on some food, gloves, and water for a homeless man they saw in town. Their money was from their savings and they said that they did it because they were bringing kindness back to our family for our secret Santa. I couldn’t be more proud. To have the courage to approach someone in need, and do something so selfless on their own is all the gifts I need. One very proud Mum.”

Perhaps we shouldn’t be so surprised that the younger generation seems to be shaping up to be so impressive. Almost half of all young people in England now go on to higher education, more than ever before. Not all of them are studying medicine or applied mathematics, and there are older cynics who mock courses which they believe are not as rigorously academic as the ones they studied. But what people often forget about higher education is that it isn’t just what people study that changes them, it’s the whole experience – the people one meets and the different lifestyles and values one encounters. Our young people increasingly have friends from different countries, different faiths, different races, and this can surely only lead to a reduction in fear and suspicion of the 'other’. As these young people get into positions of power and influence I really believe it will change our country and our world for the better.

The next few years, perhaps the next decade, do look grim. With a new government wedded to all the old, failed ideas which have brought us here, and the climate rapidly approaching a tipping point, we have much to fear. But beyond that, if we survive, I think we can say that our future will be in truly good hands. So as some of us celebrate the birth of a tiny baby bringing hope to the world, let all of us celebrate, support and encourage in every way we can our children and young people who, given the chance, might just save the world.

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© Bernadette Meaden has written about political, religious and social issues for some years, and is strongly influenced by Christian Socialism, liberation theology and the Catholic Worker movement. She is an Ekklesia associate and regular contributor. You can follow her on Twitter: @BernaMeaden 

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