Happy New Year greetings everyone! As we say goodbye to a rocky 2018 we will have to button our seatbelts tightly for an even rockier 2019. I am getting ready to work even harder to find moments of joy and contentment in all the chaos, of our own making, that seems to want to consume us.
The paradox of human life is the human being, in whom positive and negative forces co-exist. For all the confusion and stupidity, we are also incredible creations with that most wonderful thing – a human brain. Human beings are so clever: We invented celebrations of birthdays to distract us from the fact that our lives are getting shorter and every civilisation has created a belief system in order to defy death; we took eating, so primary a human need, and turned it to another daily celebration, refining it into high art; we took basic shelter and turned it into design; and the need to protect our naked bodies and turned that into high fashion. Music and art feed the soul and the human spirit and that, too, we have turned into something sublime.
Research into human behaviour never ceases to offer surprising results but it may be simply that the world is overwhelming and we, therefore, constantly find ways of ordering it. Different peoples and places manage it differently. Those particular mechanisms have produced what we call “cultures” or the traditions and rules that in turn condition our behaviour. We don’t really notice them since they become part of the fabric of our daily lives and part of our value system but I believe we should pay greater attention because the order, on both the small and large scale, has become oppressive. I would venture to say that all the present social, religious and political upheaval derives from the fact that people are feeling hemmed in and unsettled by the certainties we have created.
As a counter, the notion of “disruption” has taken hold in recent years, matching the changes that new technologies have wreaked upon our unsuspecting societies, but many of us have little insight into what change really signifies. A friend commented to me that the ways in which we organise our lives is not about nature, but about nurture. Within us all we know how to live because we arrive on earth with a sensibility about how to survive and with good intentions, and finding that inner knowledge, she believes, will help get us through all the disruption.
We may find a chink of hope in some new anthropological work into how youth, Generation Z–those born between 1995-2010 and reared up in the narrow, conservative, financial crisis era–is shaping up for the challenge. The common perception of Generation Z is that compared to previous generations, they are hardly motivated to resolve the big issues facing the modern world and are predominantly selfish. Teenagency: How young people can create a better world–a report forming part of a research project of the Royal Society of Arts and Centre for Real-World Learning at the University of Winchester in the UK–shows that Generation Z may not be one of mere wasters. This project, an “enquiry into the mutually reinforcing relationship between creative self-efficacy and youth social action”, found a “palpable sense of agency and creative self-confidence” amongst them and a real concern for, and desire to help, others, together with a determination to make the world a better place.“ Alas, young people are disempowered by the sense that they have no voice.
A key finding of the report interests me greatly because it justifies the work of the NGO I run, the Bocas Lit Fest, alongside our young partners the 2Cents Movement and initiatives such as Girl Be Heard. The research proved the mutually reinforcing relationship between social action and young people’s creative self-confidence, but the following conditions must prevail: 1) young people are allowed to identify the problem they want to address; 2) they are allowed to develop their own solutions; 3) they are able to lead the response to the problem; and 4) they are encouraged to reflect on the impact they achieved. Under these conditions young people can develop the attitudes and skills needed to make a positive difference in the world, especially disadvantaged youth, who lack other chances for personal development. Spoken word or performance poetry has become a vehicle for discussion on the big problems TT society faces and through creative, personal engagement with those subjects seeks to create change, with Generation Z being the agents.
It is an on-going success and my wish for 2019 is that more opportunities exist for this sort of hope-giving, high-quality and empowering creative social-action work to continue for everybody’s benefit.