The Youth in a World of Contradictions



What does the future hold for the youth? And does the present give us something to hope for? At the risk of literary triteness, I would have to quote Dickens on this one.

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way- in short, the period was so far like the present period…

This famous opening line from A Tale of Two Cities was written in the context of the 18th century French Revolution and yet it just as accurately describes the absurdities and contradictions of the modern era. Democracy and human rights have never been more celebrated and yet we still see some of the most blatant and deadliest suppression of them. Technology has never been more advanced and humanity has never been smarter (if the Flynn effect is to be believed) and yet we’re facing a massive economic downturn and a famine is still claiming lives as we speak. Security and anti-terrorism measures have never been tighter and yet a ruthless massacre happened in a place we never would’ve imagined such horror to occur.

Humans have never been comfortable with paradoxes. We are wired to resolve conflicting ideas and to reduce dissonance as much as we can. We live, however, in a world where contradictions abound and each generation must face its own share. For today’s youth, these are the contradictions we have to live with, and we must deal with. And there lies the hope of our future: that in our discomfort of these contradictions, we will work as hard as we can to resolve them. We will give our best shot to narrow the gap between what is and what should be.

There is no guarantee of success of course. In fact, failures are often inevitable. We can also succumb to apathy and hopelessness, and it is all too easy to do so. But youth is also blessed with passion, boundless energy, enthusiasm, and an idealistic, if at times naïve, goal that we can change the world. So why not? We won’t solve the big problems on a global scale but we can come up with piecemeal solutions on the local level. We may not completely change the world but we’ll probably make enough of a difference to make it a little better.

Risking another shot at literary triteness, I’ll end with a quote from The Lord of the Rings. When Frodo was feeling the burden of responsibility for the ring which he must take to Mordor, he said: “I wish the ring had never come to me. I wish none of this had happened.”

Gandalf then answered, “So do all who live to see such times, but that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.”

We are young, we have the world before us and these are the times we are given. Let us decide wisely.

Photo: © UNICEF/NYHQ2005-2254/Giacomo Pirozzi. Morocco, 2005. A girl waters a wild rose at Timjichte Primary School in the rural district of Ouisselssate in Ouarzazate Province.

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