By Brother Damien Price
Growing up in Proserpine was a simple thing. The big questions of my life were few. Could I get 20 coconuts peeled in time for the school fete to be sold to raise money for the Sisters’ mission in PNG? Would there be yabbies in the ditches beside the sugar cane after heavy rain? When would the next First Day Cover come out for my stamp collection? When was Uncle Eddie coming over to teach me how to use a lawnmower? What Cub and Scout badge would I be going for next? All in all it was a simple life.
Recently I was facilitating a conference and in between sessions sat in on a workshop. One PowerPoint slide caused me concern. It portrayed a small group of children on a beach with a series of ‘tidal waves’ heading towards them. The first wave was labelled COVID 19, the second Recession, the third was a much higher wave labelled Climate Change and the fourth and largest wave was labelled species extinction. The presenter suggested there were many other tidal waves facing the youth of today.
Not that long ago I found myself facilitating a twilight retreat with a group of 14 to 17-year-old men and women. The twilight retreat was all about boundaries, respectful relationships, personal self respect, respect for the other and healthy sexuality. The retreat was in response to a series of ugly, disrespectful social media incidents between boys and girls when some terrible things were said that badly put down and disrespected others. On another occasion in the last month I was working with a large group of 16-year-old boys and girls and discussing with them what their world is like and how to find your voice and honour your innate dignity within it. In the midst of the discussion one young woman said:
“I am really scared, social media follows you everywhere, you can’t escape it!”
It is no secret that the amount and severity of mental health issues among our young people has never been higher. More and more young people are in counselling and using prescriptive medicine. The issues facing our young people are complex and multi-layered and sadly the wisdom figures that once mentored young people into adulthood are losing or have lost their influence. The Churches, the school and even to some extent the family are losing their power and ability to influence.
More than ever then we are needing adults and young people on their journey to adulthood to stand up and be courageous. We are needing, more than ever, to be prophets of hope. It is NOT all doom and gloom. We can make a difference. We do have agency. Our voice is important. We are not powerless.
The first point of attack in this battle, and it is a battle, is for the adult community to witness to maturity, to self discipline, to higher and deeper values, to a higher good beyond immediate emotional fixes. We can’t have employees in the corporate sector engaging in alcohol and drug-induced work parties and expect our young people to seek a higher standard. We can’t have casual ‘flings’ and affairs being normal, expected and not that problematic and expect young people to grow into a strong sense of the dignity of their psycho-sexual identity. We can’t have a greed driven marketplace that takes no prisoners, where our fellow human beings are expendable and mere cannon fodder for the profit margin and expect our youth to dream of global responsibility and to care for our common home: mother Earth.
Our second point of attack is to name the rubbish for what it is. We need to call out social media and equip ourselves and our young people with the critical thinking skills to see its façade, its shallowness and its hypocrisy. We need logic. We need reason. We need social analysis skills. We need to call out the power players that are nothing more than profit-driven puppeteers of the innocent. But we need to do this courageously and intelligently for they are powerful and highly skilled in disempowering anyone or anything that challenges their power. It is NOT Ok for some social media platforms to make billions on the backs of cyber bullying of youth from other youth. It is NOT ok for politicians and the corporate sector to peddle in lies and manipulate truth to suit their selfish agenda. It is NOT ok for whole industries to make billions from trashy sexuality and sexual exploitation. My father, who loved journalism, would turn in his grave at the shallow, manipulative, interest group-serving rubbish that some still brazenly call reporting.
Thirdly, and perhaps most importantly we need to professionally and deliberately teach and create narratives of hope for ourselves and our young people. Hope is based upon love. Hope is fed by truth. Hope faces fear and stares it down. Hope knows truth. Hope is courageous and determined. Hope is a long distance runner and not a short-term sprinter. Hope’s roots go deep into dignity, true freedom, selflessness and generosity. Hope is not naïve or shallow. Hope’s story is strong and reasoned and names the rubbish for what it is.
We need to teach the skills of true critical thinking so that young people can see the façade for themselves, see the hypocrisy for themselves, see the power-driven manipulation for themselves. More importantly we need, alongside true critical thinking, to gift our young people with fidelity and love driven experiences so that they see and know and honour true beauty, true dignity, true love and truth itself, where and when they engage with it.
This sacred journey begins with me (and you), today and tomorrow, wherever we find ourselves – there really is no Planet B, no committee or no other time to begin this battle or sacred journey. If not you – then who? If not now – then when? If not here – then where?
Brother Damien Price is a former teacher in Brisbane schools including St Joseph’s, Gregory Terrace, St Patrick’s College, Shorncliffe, and St Laurence’s College, South Brisbane. He continues to work with schools across the country.