Dealing with Uncertainty: Why Reaching out to Young People Is So Important
By Tim Hjersted / filmsforaction.org
Mar 21, 2011

Reaching out to young people is especially critical at this time. With mounting psycho-social stress attributed to an increasingly uncertain future, young people are going to need support grappling with the social effects of so many convergent crises.

The world is rife with uncertainty about our fate on the planet. Declining ecosystems and biodiversity, a quickly destabilizing climate and an end to the cheap energy we're currently addicted to leaves a lot to question. With all this going on, I think it's more important than ever to have elders that can guide young people through this initiation into adulthood - towards fully realizing the world with eyes wide open.

As for myself, I had my personal awakening to this information on my own, when I was 22 - circa 2005. My parents weren't aware of much of this information. My friends were not that political at the time. None of it was taught in school and the mainstream media was still promoting the fantasy-notion that the status quo can just keep rolling along, into a sunset of infinite growth and record-breaking profits.

It was strange to wake up to this world of understanding relatively on my own. My early companions were books like Ishmael, Culture Jam, and The Last Hours of Ancient Sunlight. There was no one in my community that was there to say, "Yes I understand what you're going through. I had my own moment of insight and it was difficult to come to terms with. You feel like everything you were told as a kid was a bill of lies. American democracy, the free-enterprise system, our heroic national history, the ideal of the American dream - where anybody can make it rich if you just try hard enough - all of these cultural memes - together what Kalle Lasn calls "Brand America" appear to have been a sham."

"I hear you. It's a tough pill to swallow, and certainly it must be frustrating to realize you were born into this crazy world. That the world had gone mad long before you were even born. I felt the same thing, but I want to reassure you: a far more joyous and beautiful meaning to the world awaits on the other side of this difficulty. And with so many mass illusions being shattered by the economic collapse and all the other challenges we're facing, everything is now on the table. The world may be crazy, but this is an amazing opportunity, too. We have the potential to completely rethink and redesign virtually every facet of modern life. What kind of paradigm we transition to in the next generation is entirely up to our own imaginations and creativity."

I want to tell the kids growing up today this message. I would have loved to have been told this when I was young, to have some guidance that seemed trustworthy. As more people wake up and abandon the "just go to school, get a job and make lots of money" mantra, we are left without any real sense of an alternative path. What does a young kid do when she realizes that the map she's been given by her parents and school teachers to navigate this world is almost entirely out-dated?

We need new maps to help us navigate the transition, and we need to make these maps available to people of all ages, at a community level as well as a purely informational level.

On an informational level, it has been Films For Action's goal to create this map on our website, divided into the 42 general subjects that we believe are essential to building a society that is just, sustainable and socially fulfilling. As people dive into these sections we believe that a personal and collectively-shared map will begin to reveal itself, where all the dots will start connecting and we'll find the strength and confidence in our life's direction. We'll have a new map to navigate the transition from "Empire to Earth Community," as David Korten puts it.

At a community level, we need to build relationships that support each other during these challenging times, both informally and in our educational institutions. We need each other to "carry the light for each other," as my friend Michael Weil puts it. We need to support the people who are going through this transformation right now, and to be a light to the people who are still asleep, dreaming the old American dream.

More formally, we need to engage with our local schools and colleges. Amazingly, as eco-literacy advocate David Orr writes, "we are still educating the young as if there were no planetary emergency." Schools by and large continue to prepare students for the status quo jobs and market conditions that existed in the 1950s. We need schools that are preparing students for the world that is actually going to exist when they get out of school, not the fantasy world of infinite growth and business-as-usual that is currently being presented. 

I was inspired by my friend Brady Karlin's idea to create "transition" mentoring associations, where college students mentor high school students, high school students mentor Jr. High students, and so on down the ages - enabling young kids to have slightly older peers that support them, while allowing the older generation to get a sense of their own confidence and autonomy - their worth as someone who has something important to teach as well as to learn.

They would embody the transition movement in that these mentoring relationships would focus on helping each other navigate the challenges our society faces, learning the skills that will be essential in a low-carbon world. Ultimately, we need to bring the lexicon and understandings of the transition movement into the curriculum of every class room and department in higher and lower education.

Being the creative research labs of our society, our educational centers have a critical role to play in cultivating a brain trust of creative young minds that are approaching their careers and life path with a firm understanding of the challenges and opportunities they'll have to create a new world.

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Dealing with Uncertainty: Why Reaching out to Young People Is So Important