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Monday, April 7, 2014

Views and hopes of youth must drive the futures agenda

The youth, persons aged between 18 and 35 years are now recognized as a category of human existence. Adults, politicians and policy wonks caricature the youth as heirs to the future.  

A dominant construct of the future is that it is unknown and out there. The future is not out there. Neither is it an unknowable, which unfolds inevitably. Every generation undertakes the active and deliberate vocation of constructing the future. The recipe for the future is often contained in the tangible and present moment, here and now.

Every generation, by its intentions, deeds or misdeeds, determine in the present the depth of squalor or opulence of those born or unborn. In the active and deliberate assembly of futures, the choices adults make matter. But the proclivities and acquiescence of those currently youthful are profoundly consequential, for they are custodians of a much longer part of the future.

Through the ages, adults have agonized about youth, characterizing them as a boon or curse. Moreover, experts believe that if young people have no stakes their society they may turn violent. At the launch of the Decade of Youth Action Plan at the 17th Africa Union Summit in 2011, African heads of state declared that unemployed youth are a threat to stability in Africa.

Youth is more complex than the limited adult characterizations as capital windfall or socio-political risk. Youth is new beginnings. Youth is self-reliance, hedonism and individual liberty. Youth is juice.

Youth is nimble and full of sport. Youth is about potential, promise and renewal Youth is about frontiers, novelty, challenging dogma and advancing the untested. Youth is about identity exploration, self-focus and self-reliance. Youth is about infinite possibilities and yet great uncertainty. Youth is unfazed, finds change exhilarating, not daunting. Youth is rash, unknowable.

Youth is experimenting, boundary testing, risk-taking. Youth is on the bleeding edge of popular culture, music, dance and fashion. Youth is on the vanguard of technology, enterprise, creativity and innovation. Youth is the voice of the future. Youth is about service, patriotism, peace and hope and compassion, our highest aspirations. But Youth is also delinquency, apathy, desperation and violence, the latent evil in all of us. End of youth is the eternal fear of the older generation.

Three portraits emerge from this characterization: resilience and adaptability; traditional aspirations of career, family and fulfillment; and angst and pessimism about the future. The portraits suggest the youth are acquiring values and attitudes they believe are demanded by society today, rather than what is necessary to thrive in the future they want. This makes more urgent the need to have the youth more actively engaged and participating in the present, defining and articulating their visions of preferred futures.

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