I can think of few things that strike more raw emotion in people than when they are empowered and presented with the tools to create meaningful social change. In the face of great global challenges, being in community teaches us that it is of utmost importance to look beyond our singular worldview and to critically evaluate the ideas of our peers; after all, it is self-evident that meaningful social changes are not created in isolation. More often than not, tactically dissecting an issue as a group reveals to us the diversity of thinking among our peers and the true complexity and interconnectedness of our social systems. This, as I have learned first-hand, is a truly beautiful thing - the idea that through others, we learn about ourselves and our world. Indeed, this must be the sort of thing that inspires.
With this thought resonating in my mind, a few peers from The Starfish and I attended the Beyond Green Youth Summit this past weekend at the University of Toronto. From the get-go, the summit boiled with the youthful energy and enthusiasm of young minds. Despite varying in their life experiences, professional backgrounds and interests, these leaders were united by a shared hunger to be beacons of change. As new issues were explored through insightful discussion and activities, it soon became clear that the emerging themes of the conference went far beyond society’s preconceived notion of environmentalism and social activism - one often riddled with negative labels of extremism and leftist ideology, both in the media and at times by our very governments. Indeed, the sheer diversity of the speakers and the passion resonating from their ideas forced me to make a critical re-evaluation of issues that I previously believed to understand quite well.
Take climate change, for example. As a science student and lover of all things remotely science-oriented, I am naturally drawn to the scientific argument for man-made global warming. However, upon reflecting I began to realize that as a scientist, I tended to focus solely on the science, often becoming irritated when people did not seem to ‘get it’ based on science alone. But with every discussion, new seeds were planted. With every idea, a new dimension was added to the complexity of the problem. I began to wonder...could I really blame them? Although science is a fundamental piece of the climate issue, the miscommunication and misinterpretation of science in popular media has often painted a picture of science as apocalyptic, confusing and all too scary for the lay individual. In doing so, the purpose of science - that of a means to educate and inform a people by shaping an understanding of the natural world - has been somewhat tainted. I began to realize that by overlooking this disconnect between people and science, I was missing a key part of the climate issue. Sure, in the past I had stubbornly asserted to myself dozens of times that the climate issue had to go far beyond just science. But this time, the realization was strikingly genuine, and surprisingly moving. Somehow, by having an opportunity to hear the stories and shared experiences of a diverse group, it became much more about the people and less about science. Perhaps keynote speaker Tzeporah Berman, whose talk focused on the need to recognize that climate is culture since it fundamentally shapes how we define ourselves as a people, drove this point home most elegantly, by stating: “These are no longer environmental issues. They are fundamental moral issues of our time.”
As I reflect upon the conference, I truly believe that a major goal for mobilizing genuine action is to make an issue personal and relevant by making the individual inspired in community; to go beyond just numbers and figures and extend to our shared human story. Our story is ever-changing, and although collectively we walk a fine line between sustainability and turmoil, we have at our disposal the raw tools to shape our destiny as we please. The fact is that in this defining point in history, we, the global community of educated and empowered youth, are center stage. I am now more convinced than ever before that meaningful change is not in the hands of elected officials and the shadow of complacency that defines them. Moreover, I am humbled by the fact that the way I frame problems is only a single layer of the true complexity and beauty of the challenges we face, and that through others we can come to develop our thinking and understand an issue from an impartial, unbiased perspective. More than anything, I am hopeful that through actively seeking solutions in community, rather than simply opposing flawed political and economic systems as individuals - that is, shifting from activism to proactivism - we can best focus our efforts to make a true and lasting difference in our world.
So why wait? The time is now, and your ideas matter - so join the conversation. What inspires you? Leave your comments below!