Monday, 1 October 2012

Inspire a Generation: Who inspires Who?

Inspire a generation.  We've all heard that phrase over and over again this summer, and in some ways it's all a bit cliche now.  Yes, I said it.  Cliche.  However, my question (as per the title) is who inspires who?  It's a powerful thing to behold the achievements of our athletes, especially those who have overcome so much.  And, yes, I have been inspired.  Especially by the Paralympics.  Channel 4's promo leading up to the commencement did it for me.  "Meet the Super-Humans".  Huzzah!!  They were super human alright.  Wow!  I was not alone. It seemed the country gathered momentum and optimism as they stood in support of Team GB.  Polls suggest that patriotism has soared in recent months as a result of both the Jubilee celebrations and the Olympics.  I must confess I was somewhat skeptical of the latter at first.  Then I watched the Opening Ceremony (on tv) and was completely blown away by the creativity, spectacle and general recognition of what Britain has given the world.  Hats off to Danny Boyle for converting me.  I mean, who couldn't be slightly proud of Britain having seen our Super-Thesp' and Director Extraordinaire, Kenneth Brannagh, playing Isambard Brunel and quoting The Bard's (it is thought) farewell to the stage, "The Tempest"?  Swoon, float, sigh, wipe a tear or two...

Up until this point, though, we'd really only heard about "libor" scandals (I had no idea that word existed until someone committed a boo-boo and the press went wild), austerity measures (if I had a pound for every time I heard that I'd be able to pay off my student loan so much quicker), and, sadly, controversy within the Church.  However, one thing I note from all this wonderful London 2012 raving is that there is a feeling that we need to inspire the 'younger generation'.  At least, that's where the emphasis seems to have been placed.  Really?  Inspire a younger generation?  Is it not this younger generation who have demonstrated to us that their resolve, motivation and focus has paid off to win Gold for the UK?  And is it not the older generation, perhaps scarred by the riots of 2011, who need to see what can be achieved by the same generation of young people?

Ah the 2011 riots.  A sad time for us youth workers.  A chorus of "down with the delinquents" could be heard across the nation.  The Daily Mail quoted Anthony Daniels, a retired prison doctor and psychiatrist, that British youths are "the most unpleasant and violent in the world" (DM 10/8/11).  The Benefice in which I work/serve/attend Sunday services may not be the "hood" exactly but I'd say that was a slightly harsh assumption.  Recent newspaper articles have reported that gang-related youth crime in city centres has soared over recent months.  Clearly the British public (and the world) needed London 2012 to remind us that young people perhaps aren't quite as unpleasant as some would have us believe and maybe just need a sense of belonging and/or a bigger thing to focus on. Don't we all.

Actually it dawned on me during the Olympics when most athletes were considered "old" or "nearing sporting retirement" as they reached their late twenties, that I am not necessarily classified as a "young person" any more (what?!?!)  So perhaps it is people of my generation (people in their early thirties, before you ask, who are too old to be considered for Rio in 2016..sigh..) who were in dire need of this "inspiration".  I confess I've been jaded by life a little of late. I've seen parents struggle to make ends meet, trying to pay the mortgage and feed their family while food costs rise and fuel prices shoot through the roof.  Meanwhile the banks rig libor to increase their profits and when they're caught the bosses, who are already earning considerably more that your average Joe, get a nice little sum to depart from the company.  You bad boy.  Here's your reward for allowing dishonesty, now go away and don't do it again.  I'm sorry, but is it any wonder that young people feel ever so slightly frustrated by this and take to the streets to show their disillusionment?  Not that I condone the violence and the vandalism of 2011, but when Dr Daniels writes that Britain's young have a "sense of entitlement" and were unwilling to change their ways for anyone else (Smith/Moran, DM 10/8/11) I feel the urge to raise my hand and say, with all due respect, they haven't had the best example shown to them by the leaders of finance and, dare I say it, the government (expenses scandal, etc, etc)

So when I see young people achieving more than they could have imagined either on the sporting stage or in their own daily struggle, I, the old-enough-to-retire-from-professional-sport generation am absolutely inspired.  Beyond that, and this is probably why I do what I do, every week at my youth group, G7Teen, I never ceased to be inspired by the young people.  A couple of Sundays ago we asked them "what do you stand for?"  Each was given a piece of A4 paper and a pen to ponder this on and then some A4 card to write out, like a placard, their thoughts.  Here's a selection of what they stand for:

Gay rights
Being kind to one another
Animal rights

And so on.  They didn't just write these things.  They explained why each means a lot to them. These aren't just what I call "Sunday School answers".  Amid the hormones, the homework, the craziness of life as a teenager, the things they hold on to, stand for, argue and attest to are some of the biggest values in life; some of the things that those of us with some life experience under our belts can sometimes become skeptical about.  So I applaud this generation for reminding me not to give up on the big things.  The youth of today can show us the best way to 'do life': with big dreams, goals, open arms, creativity, steadfast values (that go beyond platitudes) and an unceasing optimism and energy.  And what can we do for them in return?  Make space for them, create a sense of belonging, believe in them, encourage them, create challenges and open doors for them.  Inspire a generation?  They did.  Mine.

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