On August 21, a child nervously told his mother, “Mom, the bad guy got away”. Taken from the book “Who stole their youth?” explaining The Tai Ji Men case of Taiwan (now an international fight). In America, we hear instances of shootings in high school. When evil prevails, it leaves teens and young adults feeling worried especially when they encounter it first hand and see injustice slide right before their eyes. No kid needs to be told that this is wrong as any individual regardless of their background develops a sense of right from wrong at a young age.
Finding Personal Identity Overcomes Helplessness
A recent question I posted on my social media – “Gen z, how do you feel about injustice?” resulted in similar answers. Some descriptions from these 10-25 year olds include: feeling furious, sleepless, low, heart cries, scared, disappointed, helpless, angry, sad, sick, restless, upset, unbearable, confused, tired and weary. These are all emotions associated with hopelessness and the word used most was “helpless”. One way to counter this feeling of hopelessness and personal oppression is to find identity. To find individual personal identity, each person has to define themselves outside of religion, culture, media and politics.
Sometimes, we are so dependent and addicted to listening to what others have to say that we don’t make space to listen to our own conscience. Our consciousness and gut feeling are those that define our yes’s and no’s, rights and wrongs, likes and dislikes, and good from bad. When we define this for ourselves then we no longer are slaves to outside voices and when we stick to the good side of these gut feelings then we not only practice freedom for ourselves but also allow freedom for others.
What are some practical ways to exercise identity in a broken world?
#1. There are two sides to this matter.
One is with respect to the creation of space by parents and parental figures. A common solution that many experts and therapists advise is that parents must create an open line of communication with their children. But how do they create such a space when it was not illustrated to them or unsure of how to do so? Some practical ways are:
Two way street –
Invite children to talk to you and share their mind instead of one way advice. They already know – Your children are exposed to more than you think, so don’t hesitate to address reality.
Be the first –
If you find the need to talk about an issue but are worried that it might be too much for them, understand that they would appreciate knowing the good, bad and ugly from you rather than finding out from others. A good tip is to address in increments.
You’re their hero –
Kids and teenagers idolize their parents regardless of how they act so try to follow up your words with actions rather than picking and choosing one side of the issue.
#2. Another way to find identity in this broken world by kids, teenagers and young adults navigating this seemingly hopeless world, is to speak up against oppression.
I find that gen z is blessed with social media but more importantly have any kind of research, history and support in the palm of your hands. If you see injustice on the streets, media and workplace, know that it began at home. If you want your world to be free of the same injustices that you face today, you cannot afford to wait till it’s your time to be a parent. Chances are that if you wait, others are also waiting but if you speak up, you will find other voices in your support.
Start speaking up at home –
Tell your family and friends how you feel and what you think. Try to avoid words of anger, revenge, self-deprecation and hatred. Instead, sharing what you are going through in a state of calm, confident and well intended messaging always gets through to the person on the other side. The secret to confidence is processing your thoughts and feelings before sharing them. This is where identity plays a vital role.
Identity requires courage –
Growing up, a child or teen’s identity revolves around those they have grown up with but chances are that when they get exposed to the reality of life, children form their own thoughts and opinions, sometimes different from family. Staying true to this personal identity requires courage as there might be backlash from close ones.
Being number one in career, money, fashion, wealth and a ton of friends are goals in life – Though people and media say that attaining these makes a successful person, your conscience will tell you that going to bed feeling what you did was right is what success really is. An independent life of peace and freedom is a series of small decisions made everyday. Yes, you might be tempted to take the shortcut to decision making, but these shortcuts of denial, complacency, following the herd and turning a blind eye to things that matter are those that will cost you in the long run. When you have a nudge to change or fix things, do your best to address it now. It might be a long road to freedom. But it will be a journey that is worth the ups and downs.
The road to a better world
To create a better world for yourself and the coming generation, address your biases – This is the tough part of finding yourself. Doubts such as “what if I’m wrong?” “What if I’m alone?” “What if I get disowned?” will take shape. These are realities that have the possibility of coming true. But asking yourself which is more important – your identity or the bias and cruelty, will help you stay brave to take the long road to freedom.
Some teenagers that have led with their conscience are Gretta Thunberg, Malala Yousafzai and Gitanjali Rao to name a few. Though they experience some backlash, the support they get for standing for their beliefs overpowers the negative. This is because they have strong convictions and a clear sense of identity that allows them to create change starting in their own home. For example, Malala and her father are great examples of living the truth rather than what culture dictates for them.
In the same way, there might be everyday individuals who are changing the course of their journey like your brother, sister, cousin, best friend or neighbor. Find who that person is in your circle and support them. To be of support, you have to be secure in yourself. Then, you will be able to give to others and serve a purpose.
Give yourself the gift of the courage to identify yourself. When you know yourself and are clear about where your identity is placed, oppression, injustice, hopelessness and negativity will have no space in your vocabulary. Being brave to change the narrative and inspire justice, comes from within. Change starts with you and mastering yourself begins with courage. You are important so make every decision count. Stand up to withstand injustice.
Sharon Angel is a dynamic, young leader and a voice for this generation. Sharon’s passion lies in bridging societal divides between people of different status, faith, caste, race, age and gender. Her goal is to voice the concerns of the destitute and help facilitate their journey toward rehabilitation, employment, freedom, and peace through her work in media and justice.
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