Make ac­tivism a fam­ily pri­or­ity, like ed­u­ca­tion

The London Free Press - - COMMENT - craig & marc kiel­burger 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.

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.

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