Youth work in a world where the Doomsday Clock strikes 11.57

Chart showing adjustments to Doomsday Clock since 1947

This week the doomsday clock shifted. Scientists using all the data known to them about world events, nuclear threats, political harmony and weaponry, climate change and the environment, predicted that we are in 2017 significantly closer or in a riskier position to the end of the world being soon. Not quite as soon as in 1953, but still soon.

I am a Spring Chicken in the Youth work world.  If it were to be believed as accurate sociologically, I make it just into the Generation X category, born in 78, 80’s childhood, teenager in the 90’s.

Going by this news article, its not just where people are born, the postcode lottery of deprivation, of resources, it is also when you were born that matters, and this matter for being a youthworker, an educator. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-38760792

There were always rumours that something could happen in the 1980’s of a world tragedy, at some point in my primary school we were shown an education video of how to survive after a nuclear bomb, at the dying embers of the cold war, there was an underlying fearing tone, and if the clock is right above 1984 and 1988 were years when threats could have been pronounced or tensions raised. There was always sadly, bombings in Ireland, and the Brighton Bombing, one of the first news stories i remember.

But as the Berlin wall fell in 1989, it became a time (outside of the Iraq war, and the middle east) that politicians were queuing up to take photos of agreements, of reconciliation, of unification, of being peace makers who undid the horrors or threat of war. We could have main news stories about Brit pop in 1995, because not much else was happening in the world. Being a teenager in the 1990’s – as a recent programme on channel 4 said- meant a whole host of creativity, of expression, of freedom mixed with a sense that the world was a largely peaceful place. Fighting was all done and peace making was the political headline, and this even spread to Ireland in the late 1990s. The world was a safe, optimistic place, without fear people, young people could dream.

Look at the clock since 1991. Its been gradually- without interruption- been getting closer to the midnight point. What does that reflect? That ever since mechanisms for peace haven’t been effective, or tried enough, war might be keeping vast economies going with an arms trade – so why end them all. If theres no war, no politician can be a hero either.  Yes its more complicated. But ever since the outbreak of peace in 1991 gradually the tide has shifted:

1991 ; 17 minutes

1994: 11 Minutes

1998 ; 9 minutes

2002: 7 minutes

and ever since 2002 its got closer to midnight.

All youthwork exists in a political and cultural landscape, and more than ever before young people can access images of terror, of fear and anxiety from across the globe at the click of their fingers. It not that it is accessible, it is what is accessible. Fear has become normalised in the lives of young people today. They fear their futures, they fear not being able to cope, they fear not being listened to, they fear what might happen. Optimism is in short supply. Optimism was taken for granted in the 1990s.

It doesnt need me to share links with you about young people and mental health referrals – but as referrals are going up and young people suffer and report even more for depression and anxiety – then services and the funding for them is decreasing from politicians – who themselves are playing the fear mongering – peace avoiding game and in part creating the stories of fear (the media is also to blame).

I have no idea what it must be like to be a young person now. To go from the optimism of the world through disney and primary school to be confronted with something far more sinister and real when the world is opened up – for many of us in the 80s to 90’s- our experiences were the other way around, fearful childhood, optimistic teenage years.

What does that mean for programmes – what might that mean to think about faith? What might it mean in conversations about young people as they reflect on their autonomy their creativity, their political awakening and potential engagement in the world? And a reality that apathy in believing they can change anything is probably true.

I find it surprising that many of those who lived through previous times of potential nuclear conflict and international disagreement are acting in a way to perpetuate the same now, and seventy year old white man in the white house, im looking at you as well. Almost as if Grandparents have forgotten, or want to inflict the same terror of the world on their grandchildren. At least i can say that my teenage years the world was considerably more at peace, it is no consolation, but all of this has an effect on our view of the world, the world we project to young people as youthworkers , and understanding their experiences within it. Maybe its even more of reason that youth work is not the job of just people in their 20’s-30’s – its those who lived in the midst of the 50’s-70’s who share a similar fearing troubling view of the world as teenagers as the current ones.

What resources do we as youthworkers need to help young people navigate amongst a fearing, troubled world, maybe it starts with the small acts of kindness and goodness we show, that enable young people to see that a different world is possible.

 

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