To be Young.

He is sixteen years old and from Turkey; she is also sixteen and comes from St. Lucia. Shaded from the ferocious Rajasthan sun by the branches of a few trees, a group of young people and three adults from a school in England are visiting India to explore and observe what life is like in a different culture.  The girl and boy are loudly discussing the merits of flat screen televisions.  They are arguing about size, make, quality of picture and sound, comparing the rooms they have in there respective homes given to visual entertainment.  They are oblivious to their surroundings.

A thin man, whose dark face seems to have been etched from the desert rock, talks to us with passion of the work they are doing to ensure that water reaches the fields enabling the people of the village to grow the crops that will sustain their lives.   A little way beyond a group of women are digging out a trench in the stone littered dry earth through which a pathetic dribble of water is running.  Their saris dazzle in the glare of the sun.
 Sometimes, he says, the monsoon sends us so little rain that we have to pay for tankers to bring in water, but that is just for the people to drink.  Drilling has become too expensive, and, anyway, often the ground water is found to contain arsenic, fluoride or is too saline to be able to support food crops.
The boy and girl have been gently reminded where they are and their conversation, which has digressed to films they have seen recently, comes to a close and they join the main group.  Another boy asks for water for he is thirsty and he has already consumed the contents of his water bottle.  It is hot and it is not yet midday.

We quickly blame the young for the shortcomings we see in them.  As parents we want to control, protect, manipulate, own and love them.  Sometimes we see them as extensions of ourselves; too often we forget that they are individual, independent members of the human species.

The vast majority of my schooling took place during the 1960s.  To be young in that decade was to be aware of the growing excitement, colour and richness of life; influences came from all over the world and there appeared to be endless possibilities.   It became clear that it was not necessary to conform to post war expectations and a unifying spirit amongst the young seemed to exist that I could feel, even from the claustrophobic and cloistered surroundings of a boy’s boarding school.  For a brief time there was a sense of equality, search for peace, care for the world and concern for each other, blossoming as values for a generation.  However, all too quickly these delicate flowers withered and died as these values were packaged and made into saleable commodities; for there was money to be made from the empty ‘ everything is beautiful’ mantra in all its fantastical trappings.  There was also the ugly side; the drugs that created lives lived on make-believe; the exploitation of naivety and the desperate disappointment of dreams unfulfilled. 

Now, freedom is viewed as having choice not as a state of mind, aspiration is considered as an important aspect of young people’s thinking and worth is only given to the thing that will bring material success.  The education system serves as the ‘materialistic exploitation of young people’ and ‘being well-educated means economically effective or successful’ (quotations from a recent conversation with the Principal of an alternative school in India).  The future can be described as a grim place or be given the illusion of a paradise; each extreme is a story built on falsehood.  However, if we view education is an ‘exploration into what is happening today without the barrier of condemnation’ (from the same conversation), then we move into a different realm.  This is not dependent on ideals, not part of an ideology, but is an active and vital process of finding out, of discovery.

Listening is exploration.  Not just listening to others, but listening to yourself; not out of a selfish individualism, but out of the realisation that what you feel – the love, fear, loneliness, hope, faith, joy- is the common to all of humanity.  Involving young people in the act of listening may be a key to joining with them in finding freedom them from the tyranny of anxiety, aspiration, despair and suffering.