Like many people, I typically take a few minutes every Monday morning to read through an eclectic list of news sources, blogs, and other online stuff that has crossed my desk. Thanks to this habit I learn such gems as Lexus created a hoverboard, Mike Tyson endorsed Donald Trump, and there is a nonprofit leadership development deficit.
On this particular Monday, I was reading about a new documentary chronicling the release of Green Day’s album American Idiot. I can’t believe that album was released 11 years ago. American Idiot is considered a seminal album of the era and is an interesting political piece as well. The article got me thinking – we throw around the word idiot a lot, but what are we really saying when we say someone is an idiot. I mean, I have a personal definition, and as a parent I have often told my daughter that you never call another person an idiot. But I have never given thought to where the term came from. So I did.
According to the host of all current human wisdom (Wikipedia) idiocy has a long history. In Athenian democracy, an idiot was someone who was concerned almost exclusively with private matters—as opposed to public affairs. Idiots were those who were disengaged, uninvolved, and generally not interested in civic life. In Athenian democracy, “idiots were born and citizens were made – through education.”
There is something about that definition that I like. Earth Force is dedicated to developing active and engaged environment citizens, and it just it feels good to say that we are fighting the good fight against idiocy.
With that good feeling in hand, I then read an article published on the Acculturated blog earlier this year. The author has a pretty conservative view of the world and youth engagement, which is fairly different from my own perspective. Nonetheless, I found myself enjoying the article and found it reaffirming that a self proclaimed conservative and I shared so many ideas in common. The author writes, preparing “our children to be involved in the political process is noble. American democracy depends on an educated, engaged citizenry—that’s a principle that has been recognized since our country’s founding.” It seemed like we could all agree that political participation is good for our country.
Then I got to the big finale, and our agreement ended. The author seems to think youth can’t be counted on to play a meaningful civic role:
“The public and the press should remember that even an articulate child is still a child, and when he or she offers a political opinion, it’s highly unlikely that counterarguments have been considered. […] Similarly, parents may think it’s cute to send their children out to parrot talking points about their cause—whether it is an environmental cause or the national debt—but the rest of us should look past such posturing and leave the real debates for the grownups.”
Other than the fact that I don’t think adults are doing a great job of solving either the national debt or environmental problems – the premise of this argument is wrong on two counts:
1 – The young people who lead environmental projects don’t parrot the talking points of their parents. In fact, when it comes to environmental issues it is more likely that parents are parroting the views of their children.
2 – If we don’t engage young people now – then when? We are entering a time of great environmental change and the world we are leaving to our children will require that they have the knowledge, skills, and motivation to protect our communities. The young people in our schools today will be the leaders of our communities tomorrow. The habits of citizenship will be cemented by the time they are 18 or 19 years old. So, now is the time.
The young people that I have worked with over the last 20 years are excited about improving their communities, consider all facets of the challenges at hand, and are more interested in making good choices without regard for their personal political views than most of the adults with whom I have worked.
We face too many environmental challenges to respond like idiots. We should be doing everything we can to make a generation of citizens.
Vince Meldrum is an experienced leader with a 25-year history of transforming organizations through program development, innovative technology, and cross-sector partnerships. Vince’s expertise brings Earth Force into the center of the climate resiliency movement. With a specific focus on people, having built several large-scale partnerships, Vince offers a unique perspective on the role of community and youth in the future of our environment.