Make activism a family priority, like education
Sometimes it seems life is bookended with optimism. Young people are known idealists and seniors develop a newfound appreciation for community. But what happens in between?
Growing up, people are quick to get involved in a cause. University campuses are hotbeds of political activity; many students take time off to volunteer. With grey hairs and wrinkles comes a renewed focus on legacy. Retirement-age career makeovers are increasingly popular for those concerned with the world they’re leaving behind.
The result is today’s youth-led fight for gun control and the 30-year tradition of the Raging Grannies advocating for the environment. Closer to home, young Canadians are the most likely to volunteer while seniors dedicate the most time. Kids join marches; retirees join charity boards.
Somewhere in between, we risk losing our optimism. An idealist at 20 can become a cynic by 40.
A while back, we wrote about the power of youth activists. Now, we’re calling on adults to take a page from their book.
We get it: Life can get in the way. Mortgages, bills, RRSP contributions—those middle years are also the time we have the most responsibility. Idealism may not discriminate based on age, but rather the amount of free time we have.
“It’s not that people lose their passion, but things can fall by the wayside,” says Kerrie Everitt, a Vancouver mom who followed her daughter Capri around the world on a socially conscious quest. The 13-yearold sang national anthems in 80 countries to raise money for orphaned children. Everitt gave her daughter the raw materials: books that raised important social questions, a worldview that embraced others. But, Everitt says, it was her daughter’s passion that turned her into an activist.
It’s unlikely cynicism sets in at a certain age, or with parenthood and the onset of more responsibilities. Our ideals don’t change, but our list of priorities does as our focus shifts from the wider world to the world under our roof.
It’s not an either-or choice.
All parents want what’s best for their kids. That often includes a good education, enriching extracurriculars and opportunities for growth.
Ensuring our kids grow up with clean water and in inclusive communities is as important as ensuring they have university tuition. So, let’s take some action for these social efforts, just as we would make arrangements for education or enrichment. We look after our children not just by providing for their success but by building a better world for them.
The first step to reviving youthful optimism, says Everitt, is to live vicariously through your children. Learn about the issues they care about, make an action plan, write letters alongside them, and pretty soon you’ll have rediscovered your sense that anything is possible.
If your seven-year-old points at a homeless man and wonders where his house is, stop and ask. Buy him a meal. Don’t ignore these childish impulses, lest they disappear.
The young activists taking on climate change in the U.S. courts or raising awareness about the injustice faced by Indigenous communities across Canada are doing incredible work. It’s time more adults joined them.
Craig and Marc Kielburger are the co-founders of the WE movement, which includes WE Charity, ME to WE Social Enterprise and WE Day. For more dispatches from WE, check out WE Stories.