“Educate the children and it won't be necessary to punish the men” (Pythagoras)
As on every August 12th, the International Youth Day was celebrated. This time around, a special appeal was made for the empowering of youth towards achieving the Sustainable Development Goals set forth on the United Nations 2030 Agenda. We have come to the realization that it is the youth who will lead the way towards the sustainability of “their” future. But two fundamental premises have to materialize in order for that to happen: (1) the existence of spaces for the participation and empowering of the youth, and (2) the presence of a real will to count with their participation; and a premise: for them to be “trained” for that. Thus, there should be increasing opportunities for children and teenagers to participate in any system aspiring to be democratic; particularly in those nations that already believe they are democratic.
In this regard, Kant already denounced in the XVIII century that “Parents usually educate their children merely in such a manner that, however bad the world may be, they may adapt themselves to its present conditions. But they ought to give them an education so much better than this, that a better condition of things may thereby be brought about in the future”. It seems little has changed in over two centuries… We are still surrounded by corruption, and we still refuse to believe that it is in the youth where the key to our development lies.
Which is why I advocate for the need of an increasingly active and significant participation in decision making since a young age, for boys and girls to be able to develop their own identity; a sense of social belonging and purpose, thereby boosting their self-esteem, which is, in the end, the basis for their future development. Young people are not only our future – they are also our present. And as UNESCO Director General Irina Bokova pointed out, “It is not enough to hope for a better tomorrow - we must act now”, because the world does not belong to us, but to them and their offspring. We must convey to them the importance of facing our existence, shunning the short-termism that determines most of our decisions.
Young people are already making their contribution to modifying certain consumerist habits, and are already influencing the way in which things are produced, distributed and consumed in the world. Young people are imbued in the “green” corporate spirit, and they are proving it through an increasingly sustainable design of products and services. It is for this reason that Ban Ki-moon prompted us to “empower young people with the resources, backing and space they need to create lasting change in our world”.
A few days ago, in the context of the World Youth Day, Pope Francis also urged young people to leave a sedentary lifestyle behind and to claim their place in the world, not letting others make decisions for them. The drug of selfishness may crush all hope in the future if we do not take charge. “People may judge you to be dreamers”, Pope Francis said, “because you believe in a new humanity, one that rejects hatred between peoples, one that refuses to see borders as barriers and can cherish its own traditions without being self-centred or small-minded”. Truth be told… I would rather be a dreamer who believes a different world is possible than settle for a reality I disapprove of.
The SDGs we have been reflecting on these last few weeks have the need to protect young people –especially children– as a basis, with the certainty that achievement of the goals is impossible without them. In other words, the youth is an ends, and at the same time, a means; they are the cornerstone of the 2030 agenda. The future of the planet is in the hands of 1.8 billion young people, which means we have the youngest population in history. Nonetheless, we still refuse to give them a chance to prove their worth, and stubbornly label them using stupid stereotypes and somewhat commercial names (Millennials, Generation X, Generation Z, NEETs…) without concern for the labels we ourselves deserve, who are, unfortunately, the most corrupt generation in living memory.
Active involvement of young people is both necessary and indispensable for fostering and achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) and to drive the 2030 Agenda forward – this includes you and it includes me… even though our years of experience keep piling up, we still maintain a young and combative spirit.