The power of conversation: Vital Youth

Community Foundations of Canada Vital Youth Report GenerationFluxAccolade Communications had the honour of working with Community Foundations of Canada on their 2012 Vital Signs Report titled #GenerationFlux: Understanding the Seismic Shifts that are Shaking Canada’s Youth. I not only had the opportunity to learn about a very timely subject, I also re-learned some broader lessons.

Challenge old assumptions

Beyond the content of the report which shows a difficult confluence of factors facing today’s youth (high debt, double national unemployment levels, high cost of living, etc.), I learned that my 20-year old assumptions no longer held. While I still consider myself “young” at 39, I have been judging younger people based on what my tuition cost at the time, the fact that I was employed etc.

The fact is, statistically, my old assumptions are incorrect.  When discussing the report’s findings with others, I find that they are often quick to dismiss anything they find objectionable and really struggle to challenge their own assumptions. We point to one anecdote rather than open our minds to what the statistical trends are showing. Why are we so afraid to be “wrong”? Revising your position after 20 years doesn’t make you wrong!

C’mon, try it! For  a minute, open your mind and say “What if all this is really true? How does that change the picture?”

Try a little empathy and collaboration

Perhaps we’re influenced by the current “us vs. them” in media and politics but let’s try a little empathy. The report found that while youth unemployment is high, baby boomers (the 55+ demographic) are staying in the labour market longer. This may be because their savings took a beating in the last decade or perhaps they don’t have enough for retirement. Some people just want to keep working because they enjoy it.

The point is not to blame anyone for the existing scenario, they are just neutral facts – we don’t need to inject judgement and divisiveness.

“Kids today have it so easy” or “The boomers aren’t leaving” aren’t helpful statements. They are stuck in caricatures of one another, rooted in the past and bring nothing new to the discussion.

I hear many people talking about “these kids who have finished university and they’re moving back in with their parents”. There is judgement in that statement, like somehow they have failed to “make it”. Do you think a young person who imagines she’s the next Mark Zukerberg wants to move in with her folks? It’s not exactly romance central if you know what I mean (don’t read this Dad). Yet Rob Carrick’s column in the Globe and Mail just the other day pointed out that there are affordability and accessibility issues in many Canadian markets and, in some cases, the best financial decision a young person can make is often to “boomerang”  back home and save for a down payment.

It costs you nothing to imagine yourself in the others’ shoes for a moment. Imagine you’re one of those boomers staying in the labour market because you have kids in university and parents who need nursing care. Imagine you’re the student with high debt but also high ambition and skills who is hitting a brick wall.

Facts are facts. The question is “where do we go from here to have the type of country we want?”

Join the conversation

I am thrilled with the coverage and the dialogue that has already been sparked by Vital Youth. Yesterday I attended a Vital Youth dialogue with 35 young people and representatives of youth-serving organizations. We came up with concrete community initiatives that could begin to address some key issues raised in the report, including re-imagining what ‘success’ looks like, skill-sharing arrangements and reconfiguring programs and organizations to really include youth in decision-making (and looking at whether your location is on a bus-route, whether your meeting times conflict with class schedules, etc.). The conversation is taking place on news sites and social media and will take place in communities across Canada throughout the year. They can take place in your workplace, your home, your City Council. Of course, issues like funding for youth mental health require broader public policy commitments but we all have a role to play in moving from statistics to solutions.

On this, or any other issue, a respectful and constructive dialogue focused on solutions is the only way forward. Let’s embrace it!

Published by Dominique O'Rourke

Public Affairs professional, City Councillor, MA Leadership graduate, problem solver and lifelong learner.

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