By Danielle Orellana.
It is important to come to grips with the fact that what is preventing youth from creating positive changes in their world is more than them being lazy or even entitled. What prevents us is an enemy that works against us whether we do something in our communities or not, and that enemy is apathy. Being apathetic makes us shrug our shoulders and not care about whether we, ourselves, make a difference, or pass the opportunity onto a nameless someone else.
Let’s break down the reasons for apathy in each “age” group of youth where they are more likely to encounter apathy, but these groupings are no way meant to be limiting because limits is what creates our apathy.
High Schoolers: Us Versus Them
Problem: As idealistic as we might seen, society technically has our age group within their limits. Because of rigorous testing-based school curriculum, our own learning about real issues is often restricted or buttered-up in accordance with political correctness. Whether it is that our hobbies and progressive actions are encouraged or discouraged, being regarded as your parents’ or school’s pride and joy is very limiting. Not to mention that we are often not taken seriously or fully respected for our opinions and visions of change, because we “will grow out of it”. It is worse when they try to prevent your social change because colleges “will look down on it”. For proactive youth, there exists a constant competition with one another based on scoring more college-application points than our neighbor. For those of us who a four-year college is out of our plans, we are lost on how we can make a real difference in the world without a college degree.
Remedy: Start small, and read. This is the best way to begin to think critically about the world around you. The reason that so many place their eggs into an ambitious teen’s baskets is because they really and truly believe in you. It is best to accept their admiration by entertaining their thoughts and opinions for you in a respectful manner, take them into account, but always go your own way. The real social change you envision is one that is best accompanied by a friend or small group. Clearly communicating your vision to elders will gain a newfound respect for what your passion really is. Often working towards this vision, however small, is what attracts colleges to your application instead of scaring them off (no matter how odd your vision is). Social change like education is not a spectator sport. You shouldn’t just jump on the bandwagon of a volunteer club or student government without analyzing your motivation behind wanting to participate. For those who aren’t even sure what their passion could be yet or how they could even achieve it, discover what kind of social problems that irk you instead of those that are typically rattled off in social studies class, and then look for creative solutions.
College Students: Us Versus Ourself
Problem: Being in college, whether it’s our first week of freshman year or last week of senior year gives us the freedom to just be, but we can often forget who we really are. The problem really isn’t so much as “finding oneself”—cramming tons of activities usually helps us to discern and plan, if we can learn to distinguish what works for us and what doesn’t by knowing when not to over compromise ourselves. But by over-stimulating our identity search we are bound to burn out both literally and figuratively. We end up cranky and not really enjoying our activities as much as we should be because at after a while we are simply going through the motions instead of letting our inspiration lead us. Also, on every college campus big and small, in every town small and large, there is always the temptation and ability for us to compromise our morals and ethics in the name of getting what we want whether it be higher test scores, more friends, more time, or a hookup.
Remedy: Not to say there are no such things as growing experiences—that’s what this whole life thing is about! But use caution in college because our own naivete could often compromise our goal to be an effective social change leader on campus and in the world. Stay grounded above all things, remember that however amazing or dull your own college experiences is for whatever reasons, remember its only 120 credits or so and your out. This is not meant to discourage you but rather to encourage you to live as each day as though it really matters because they certainly did once you are done. Say no to any type of peer pressure or entertainment that doesn’t call your interest because of your own personal belief system. If a friendship doesn’t work out with one person or group of people, do not despair. There is a whole school of fish out there who won’t judge you by your past. Make an effort keep an eye out for new learning and leadership opportunities but do not overbook yourself! Above all be conscious of all the resources colleges and universities offer when students feel like they are struggling with academics, peer pressures, and mental health issues.
Post-Studies Youth: Us Versus Them and Ourself
Problem: We just realized how small the world is, yet so big at the same time. For the first time in our life, we are exclusively called into the workforce to mind our p’s and q’s and not step on anyone’s toes (basically to act the complete opposite of what we were taught in college). We are continuously called to compromise our passions, ethics, and social change goals in the race for getting ahead. Often we just want others to take us seriously and they will, as long as our opinions match their own. “So much for social change”, many an internet-inspired young person may feel in his or her own limited professional and social life. Having to be an adult simply makes us feel too busy to have time to worry about making social change a reality.
Remedy: What we must do first if we are to attempt making the world a better place is to slow down and reflect on our social change accomplishments from years past. We should feel proud of ourselves and inspired to pick up on where we left off. We can also use the networks we have to get people to talk and make waves within them. If there is no one or no particular group that is tackling an issue, then we should be the ones to invent its solution. Taking time away from mainstream news sources can also allow us to see things that are positive in our world, that not everything is a big mess. If we are ever too busy to make changes ourselves, we could at least promise ourselves to donate a bit so that the organizations that foster our vision can continue with our likeminded vision. The biggest thing is to believe that we can touch the lives of others in our own way and to follow through with it.
It is important to assess these common problems and easy remedies to our social activism so that we can counter our apathy with its’ opposite: empowerment. Empowerment is taking the reins in our own direction of social change. Countering our apathy by becoming empowered will enable us to make such a huge difference in our world simply by fostering our analysis of what we can do with what is within our reach. We are entirely capable being the greatest force to change the world, if and only if, we can tackle our own apathy.