#YouthLivesMatter: the Most Important Lesson I’ve Learned from The Middle East

By no means to I wish to challenge the Black Lives Matter movement.  After all, they have their own campaign for their own specific reasons.  But what I do wish to highlight is the importance of focusing on youth in various conflict zones around the world.  Often overlooked, the youth of any particular region have long-lasting staying power over the social, economic, political, and religious constructs.

A few weeks ago, I was working in Washington D.C., and at an influential breakfast I commented on the recent argument about Refugees, “We have to create spaces where students can learn what it means to know one another, connect with the community around them, and help them find those sources of love and care in healthy relationships.  We need to start thinking about a 10-30 year investment, rather than focusing all our resources on the problem at hand.”  (Of course we need to address the immediate issues, but my comment was geared to a question who’s looking forward?)

And my question was met with another important statement, “Andy, that sounds great.  But nobody has that kind of time.”

I sat in silence for a bit pondering what it means to live in a world where we don’t have time to create actual relationships, because we’re focused on the next quarter, or the next cycle, or the next fire to put out where the media focuses our attention.

I sat looking at my friend and the voice in my head was screaming, “we’re missing some of the long-term answers due to our addiction to busy-ness. This is never going to end. If we don’t have time to care for one another, then what are we doing?

A large portion of our problems in the world are the alienation of today’s youth culture.  The rise of un-employment in the Middle East coupled with the notion that no one really has a home has brought us to this place where students are trying to hook into something…anything that matters.  And quite frankly, The World has left them.

We’ve put our mentoring roles into the hands of a culture that makes its own rules in real time.  There’s very little appreciation for the time it takes for adults to walk with our students to teach them.
We’ve distanced ourselves often saying, “Ahhh, it’s just the kids,” instead of meeting students where they are in an ever-changing world.
We’ve left dating and relationships to be taught by celebrities, instead of helping our kids understand what it means to connect with another.
And we’ve bought into the idea that we can live anywhere in the world, and our past community doesn’t matter.
We’ve missed the point.

IT IS THE KIDS.

Everything is the Kids.
Today’s culture is largely shaped by THE KIDS.

So when we wonder why violence begins to emerge in a youth culture as we’ve seen across the Middle East, I wonder what we’re doing to help solve the problem?  Are we willing to help the situation?  Or are we satisfied with the idea that more violence will curb the hearts of today’s global youth?

Potential Ideas For Helping Global Youth

  1.  Establishing more interaction with healthy communities 

    Part of expanding the worldview of students is allowing them to see how other students live their lives around the world.  I can’t over state this point.  When we introduce American students to Middle East students, we share what it means to be human.  We find out most of our basic human needs and desires are shared across any national border.  Students are students.  They listen to similar music.  They’re concerned about similar academic standards.  They’re wondering who they’ll be when they grow up.  And they’re looking for that stability where they can stand firm on something that’s right and true.

2.  Mentoring

When I talk to older adults (40+), there’s this notion that students are evolving at such a rapid speed there is little to talk about.  They don’t know the language of students.  They don’t know how to connect. They don’t feel like they can make a difference.  And now that I’m in that group, I get it.  I’ve been working with students for the last 20 years, and now that I’ve moved to a new community, I feel the same way.  But I’m not going to allow my own insecurities to detour me from connecting with the next generation.

So I show up to youth groups.  I go to early morning breakfasts at the local donut shop.  I’m not going to sit in the corner and just watch our future unfold.  I’m going to engage.

Now, the risk is…
a.  Students might think I’m too old to hang out with
b.  Sometimes I feel like I can be more useful other places
c.  I might find myself on the outside of the student circle

But the reward is…
When I walk down the main street of my small town, and one of the students I’ve connected with sees me from afar, they make an effort to come over and say hi.  (which has happened more than once in the last three days.)

If you want to make a difference in culture, you have to make time.  You have to show up.  You have to engage at whatever level you can.  Otherwise, you’re just an armchair quarterback telling everyone else your opinion on social media.  If you want to affect real change…show up, and help mentor one or two or ten or fifty students in your community.

3.  Create Places of Connection

The beauty of summer camping and retreat work is, you can create places where students can connect with each other and their surroundings.  The current problems in America, and the Middle East, quite frankly, have much to do with this idea where students have no connection.  It’s crazy to think, in a world where we can connect on a device in the palm of our hand we’re still Lonely.  But ask ANY student walking the hallways of their local high school, and I promise you’ll hear somewhere “I don’t feel like I belong.”

If we’re really interested in dispelling racism and religious bigotry, we’ve got to open our hearts and minds to meeting students where they are, and then; try to figure out how to build on ramps where students can connect to something besides violence and extremism.  Hope for the future is something that will drive students to reject extremism.  But without any hope, students will isolate themselves and grab onto those charismatic leaders who will use them for some sort of agenda driven campaign.

Traveling through the Middle East has given me a clearer picture of the future.  The answer to the current crisis’ plaguing the world isn’t more bombs, more security measures, or more walls.  The answer is simple, it’s TIME WITH STUDENTS.  If we don’t create it, we’ll continue suffering from the students who grow up frustrated and un-connected.

Let me know what you think

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