The Role Youth Play in the Great Turning Toward a Kind, Sustainable, Inter-connected Human Society (Rev. Victoria Loorz)
The role youth play in the Great Turning toward a kind, sustainable, inter-connected human society
I personally know a lot of powerful young people who are doing what may seem to be remarkable things to to get their communities to take action on the climate crisis and other ecological disasters. But, to me, it’s not actually exceptional. It makes sense that the youngest generation, when they are empowered to stand up and boldly share their authentic fears, hopes, and concerns and act on their innovative ideas, that they can bring about change in ways that others cannot. They are, after all, the moral authorities. Most of us adults will not get to experience the worst consequences of the ecological crises which we and our ancestors caused through our short-sighted, convenience-driven, profit-motivated culture, a culture we both inherited and helped to advance. I have witnessed the gravitas weight that the voices of the youngest generations carry. It is profound. I believe that they are the best chance we, as a species, have to actually break through political, bureaucratic and ideological impasses that continue to allow rampant destruction of our common home.
Ten years ago, my son, Alec, then in middle school, watched Al Gore’s first Inconvenient Truth documentary (the sequel is in theaters now) and was shocked awake to a crisis he saw directly threatened his generation more than any other. He was angry and incredulous that there was political resistance to clear scientific warnings that threatened his own future. And so he began speaking up. Since Gore’s organization would not train twelve year olds, he created his own powerpoint and began talking to his peers, first in his own 7th grade classroom and then to other schools, then at conferences and eventually to the UN, Congress, and to international CEOs. The novelty of a youth who could and would speak with clarity, depth and profound insight opened doors we never knew were there. To date, Alec has spoken to nearly a million people in hundreds of keynotes, panels, speeches and presentations, won dozens of awards and been covered generously by national press.
I quit my corporate marketing job to help manage his intense schedule. He quit public school by 8th grade to keep up with his two-weeks/month travel itinerary. And, we launched a non-profit to encourage other youth to follow their hearts and act on their own passions to protect the victims of our species’ self-serving agendas. The mission of our non-profit, first called Kids vs Global Warming and now called iMatterYouth, is focused on serving and empowering those youth who feel called to end the climate crisis within their lifetimes. You may imagine there aren’t many of these youth. But you’d be surprised. While everyone’s kid may not be giving speeches at the UN, it is clear that the youngest generation has been uniquely prepared for this pivotal moment in history. My son calls them “the transitional generation, the last to be born into a society focused on short-term greed, and the first to enter the sustainable world we know is possible.”
We all hope he is right. And, somehow, hearing him talk about it, I believe it. I do believe that this youngest generation has been born for this moment in history. Just as all of us are. But, the difference is that they cannot wait until they are in midlife to recognize that it’s time to look beyond the expectations placed on them in our culture to perpetuate the progress-oriented domination of our planet and listen to the deep stirrings of their souls to act on what they’ve been called to do to perpetuate life on this planet.
As much as I would like to agree that our children deserve to be protected from the harsh realities of the perils they face within their lifetimes, I know that such protection is closer to denial than despair-deterrence. You see, it’s already inside them. They know. And we’ve found that the only antidote to denial or despair when facing these realities is to do something. Something meaningful and significant. No matter what age you are. Trite exhortations framed in fun colors to Ride Your Bike! or Get Your Parents to Go Green! are actually de-motivating to young leaders who feel the magnitude of the crisis in their bones.
Eleven year old Olya just went before her city council in upstate Minnesota last month to urge them to create a climate action plan that will protect her future. She also helped them secure the funding for the process. A dozen youth from all four public high schools in Ventura California are working together with their city council to include serious climate policies in their general plan, something adults in their community have been trying to get traction on for over a decade. Youth of all ages are acting as plaintiffs in federal and state lawsuits across the country to protect the atmosphere as a public trust. At iMatter, we are working to give these young leaders a higher platform and better microphone for their authentic pleadings to all the rest of us alive today: “Please. We must all live as if our future matters.”
Adolescence (even pre-adolescence) is precisely the time in life to begin to feel the weight of your calling and the gravitas of your voice and purpose in the world. What they need is elders who listen to them, encourage them, open doors for them, support them, help them to see that their anger and sadness is evidence of the calling itself, trust them, empower them, release them to what they are surely called to do. And, in listening to them, trust that their sense of passion and calling comes from the same source which called Jeremiah, who felt disqualified because he was only a child and didn’t know how to speak up. And yet, perhaps it was this trait which precisely qualified him for the important role of warning his people of the coming Babylonian destruction.
It isn’t so much that Alec, and the other beautiful, powerful youth with whom I’m privileged to work, aren’t remarkable young people doing remarkable, novel work. They most certainly are that. But, the deeper truth is that these youth have learned to listen to something within them telling them, beyond rationality, that they can actually make a difference in a world struggling with problems impossibly larger than themselves. David Brower, the founder of Sierra Club, once said, “I'm always impressed with what young people can do before older people tell them it's impossible.” The Great Turning, as Joanna Macy calls it, toward a compassionate, sustainable and inter-connected human society is happening. And the obscene backlash we see playing out in DC right now is actually evidence of that inevitable turning. The role played by young people is intensely important. Possibly more now than ever before in history, we need the energy and prophetic vision of empowered, confident, whole, initiated young people, who believe in themselves and the urgent need for their gifts, innovations, empathy, and stories in the coming difficult years.