The Younger Generation Has Always Had the Power to Reshape Our World
by Ted Slavinpublished in St. Catharines Standard
St. Catharines, Ontario: 2010
"Youth can move the world."
This is a call Bahá'í youth hear a lot when growing up. It's raised at youth gatherings, proclaimed by adults and is intended to inspire young children. Indeed, a quick look at world history sees youth at the core of movements for change. So, if youth can move the world, in what direction will the youth choose to move it?
The world is already in crisis.
Declarations of crises are made frequently and repeatedly - crises of human rights, food, education, international relations, economics, politics and family, to name a few. Faith is decreasing or has been lost long ago in the governmental systems, religious institutions, and societal values that we have relied upon for guidance and support for many years.
If we reflect upon the world's present state, Bahá'u'lláh's words from more than 120 years ago are significant and just as relevant today: "How long will humanity persist in its waywardness? How long will injustice continue? How long is chaos and confusion to reign amongst men? How long will discord agitate the face of society? The winds of despair are, alas, blowing from every direction, and the strife that divides and afflicts the human race is increasing daily. The signs of impending convulsions and chaos can now be discerned, inasmuch as the prevailing order appears to be lamentably defective."
And so here we are, watching the old world order crack and buckle under the stresses of issues and advances in humanity that it can no longer support.
Yet, though humanity suffers from injustices and corruption, there is an underlying spirit of hope that remains with Bahá'í youth. This hope is manifested in faith of a promised day when the world's unity and peace will be a reality - a promise that has been often reduced in current dialogues to myth or legend.
Shoghi Effendi, Bahá'u'lláh's great-grandson, wrote about the golden age before us: "Deep as is the gloom that already encircles the world, the afflictive ordeals which that world is to suffer are still in preparation, nor can their blackness be as yet imagined. We stand on the threshold of an age whose convulsions proclaim alike the death-pangs of the old order and the birth-pangs of the new."
At the vanguard of this new age are youths. Of all the demographic groups that can shape societies, youths consistently have had the greatest potential and effect. Bahá'í junior youth groups, open to all youth between the ages of 11 and 15 years old, are growing in numbers globally.
I recently had the chance to sit in on a local meeting of animators - the term used to identify the youth who have been trained to lead junior youth groups. The goals animators have are both simple and extraordinary. Their aim is to assist junior youth in learning the skills needed to express their ideas with clarity so that they can be turned into positive action.
The groups also focus on recognizing the moral issues surrounding the choices they make in their lives.
It's important to emphasize that these groups are not "classes." The animator acts as a guide for the materials who stands to learn just as much as the other participants. Materials learned find their expression in artistic and service activities. In some countries, the service that junior youth groups have undertaken have grown into sustainable projects of social and economic development.
Youth can move the world, but most don't understand how to do it other than through the past contentious and divisive methods of partisanship and protest. As pointed out earlier, the old world order is already crumbling. Help isn't needed to tear it down faster. Help is needed in building a new world order with vision and skills based on unity and justice.
Junior youth are learning to move the world. Maybe we older folks can do some pushing, too.