How Can the Next Generation Be a Force For Unity?

Global Youth VoicesNovember 15, 2017Unity and DivisionFeatures

I was born in Northern Israel. When I was five, the alarm sounded and I was taken to the bomb shelter in my brother’s room. It was the first time, but not the last. A year ago, I flew to Maine, USA, to a special camp where I met teenagers from around the world, including Palestinians. Three weeks with the so called “enemy” shaped the person I am today. When I came back, I wrote a book about unity called “The Way Life Could Be.”

For years, people have been trying to create unity among both communities and individuals, but today’s reality proves that while there may have been some success, the task as a whole has failed. So why and how could our generation be the answer to this ongoing question?

First, we must recognize that unity extends beyond the people we know or are expected to know by society. True unity includes involvement and cooperation between different kinds of people, forcing us to leave our comfort zones and deal with reality. To do so successfully, we must put prejudices aside and differentiate between communities and individuals, perspectives and personalities. Why? Because whenever there is more than one person in a room, there is more than one opinion. The moment we meet this conflict of values, we realize how difficult, but also necessary, confronting it is. Only by challenging ourselves in this way can we create friendships with our counterparts from different communities.

“Why me and why now?” some have asked me. Me, because no one else can make the change for me. Only I, as a teenager--who has no interests, gets no money, is obligated to no organization, and does just what he believes in -- only I can truly be committed to achieving my goal.

Wherever and whenever we were born, to create unity we must act according to three values:

Humanity- remember that everyone is human. Differences of opinions or qualities are just opportunities to get closer.

Democracy- remember the right of everyone around you to share his or her story and speak up. Remember to follow your heart and, in the same breath, respect the other.

Liberalism- our behavior, not our sexual orientation or the way we look, determines who we are.

Finally, we must never give up. Since we are very young, we are told about our limits. We are told about the boundaries to our abilities, we are told to be like everyone and not to think beyond the status quo. But if we want to create change, we are obligated to never give up, and stay strong against those who try to prevent us from being who we really are and doing what we really want to do.

“China is a communist country.” Someone in the discussion group declared. We were from Asia, Europe, Africa, Oceania, South and North America, killing time chatting aimlessly.

“It was. But it has long been capitalist, after it opened up.” I began to pull my ears and brains closer to the discussion. Spending the longest time ever in my life with teenagers from places across the globe, I was always ready to seize the chance of getting to know them and their perspectives of the world, especially their views on my country.

“But Chinese never own their land! Their property rights over real estate last only 70 years. That’s communism!”

He couldn’t possibly know that “real estate” is so powerfully arbitrary that it could easily light up a world of hope or destroy everything meaningful to a typical Chinese speaker. Nothing the word “communism” would cover. I opened my mouth to speak, but my words were suspended in mid-air every time by a similar voice. The voice of America.

“Someone here is from China,” said someone eventually, suggesting my otherwise forgotten presence.

I smiled wearily, already giving up. I felt that every attempt at explanation was already futile, that the voice of America would always dominate American ears. The country is indeed great. However, there will forever be illusions of unity unless the voice slows down, is silent for a brief moment, and makes room for the world’s million flickering candles of life.

Things do change, yet there were also people who are bluffed and bewildered or even blinded by what they are told. We should not blame them, as one can hardly imagine that trillions of people are on the other side of the globe, let alone fully embrace this colorful and fast-changing world. Yet truth is always somewhere, whether it is in the crisis facing Syrian refugees or the hearts of residents of Guam. One should always listen, and sacrifice oneself to the endless yet meaningful pilgrimage of truths. Truths about the self and the other, the past and the future.

To listen for truths, we must keep in mind that they might come surprisingly, and that we should cultivate equal awareness and respect for different cultures. Hold on to differences, as they might turn out to be a major truths. While truths may seem unacceptable against our own cultural backgrounds and cultural clashes are inevitable, they are often reasonable under certain circumstances. Try to slow down a bit before continuing your thoughts and take a moment to paint others’ thoughts onto the broad canvas of your life. Take a deep breath and feel the wildly different experiences and thoughts fill your mind. Take another step, and you will find the world in an unexpected beautiful angle.

Unity is about the resonance of individual stories on the worldwide canvas of culture. We might only have a tiny space in which we may paint bits of ourselves, but take that little space as an unexpected gift! We would be surprised at how different people actually are from what we think they are, and the process of discovering it deserves all our time and effort.

From racists to religious bigots, there is no shortage of those who wish to keep us from uniting.

In my own country, Pakistan, religious bigotry is prevalent at all levels of society. It is so predominant that in 1979, Pakistan’s first Nobel prize winner, Dr. Abdus Salam was snubbed by his own government. He was an Ahmadi, a member of a sect of Islam not recognized by the Pakistani government. Salam wanted to establish an international research centre in Pakistan for third-world physicists, but the government didn’t show interest. He was ostracized in Pakistan and forced to continue his research elsewhere. This is an important case of bigotry because he brought such pride to the nation by winning the first Nobel Prize in any category for Pakistan, but was treated so deplorably that he left Pakistan. Had Abdus Salam been allowed to give lectures here, the Pakistani society today would have benefitted greatly from it. Instead, due to ignorance, Pakistan was deprived of one of the greatest physics professors.

However, the new generation of youth can be an empowering voice for change and unity. Most of the hate exhibited by previous generations stems from misinformation. For example, in 2015, an American presidential candidate said that the American Muslim population of New Jersey celebrated the atrocity that took place on September 11, 2001, but there is little to no evidence supporting his statements. When the “leader of the free world” is susceptible to such misinformation, then many people can fall victim to it.

Now, with access to research and the internet, this is becoming much less likely to happen. Improved communications technology allows for more interfaith dialogue. Online forums like KidSpirit allow children from different backgrounds to work with one another, teaching us that there is no difference between us and people of other races or religions. Communication like this instills in them from an early age the idea that all people are equal.

The increase in global unity can be seen with many young people supporting pride week, a parade that is meant to show solidarity with the LGBTQ+ community. The youth of today are taught to reject stereotypes and not to judge anyone by color or appearance. In fact, some schooling systems have changed their religious study syllabuses to include most major religions, which is a huge step in the right direction.

The case of Abdus Salam shows us that no matter how much success we achieve, no matter how many accolades we attain, people will still judge us based on our beliefs, or the color of our skin. Despite our best efforts, disunity still exists. However, the new tools at our disposal, such as enhanced communication methods, will allow for a much better world in the future.

In Bosnia and Herzegovina, many of our elders, who have experienced a war between different cultures and religions, have developed hatred towards each other. They teach their descendants not to build relationships with people who are "different."

To address this problem, young people in Bosnia and Herzegovina established an organization called Youth for Peace to promote interfaith, and interethnic cooperation, end violence, and create a culture of peace and justice for youth. Its main goal is to spread love and teach people that despite all our differences, we are all humans.

In January 2015, I was invited to take part in a Youth for Peace project called "Joyful Life." My first trip to the camp was bound up with suspicion and uncertainty. I thought about giving up because I was afraid I wouldn’t make any friends and that I wouldn’t fit in.

But I found that we young participants have more open minds than our elders have. When we first met, we immediately found a way to talk. We discovered common interests and a shared language. We forgot about stories of the war, we forgot about hatred and prejudices. Although we were not all of the same ethnic or religious identity, gender, or sexuality, we found connection.

The wealth of society lies in the diversity of faith, way of life, tradition, nationality, and above everything, mutual agreement and respect. First, we should start with ourselves. We should not spread hate, but learn to love people no matter who they are. We need to establish a group that will lead our entire generation to the right path, by spreading kind words, words of hope and love that will bring peace and unity in our world.

The wealth of society lies in diversity of faith, way of life, tradition, and nationality, and above everything, mutual agreement and respect.

I find it quite weird that some of the only times we talk to people of different races, ethnicities, or nationalities is to discuss contradictory views. Why don’t we build on where we agree, rather than dwelling on where we disagree? I believe that eventually, this will allow us to work together very well. After all, humanity is our common identity, isn't it?

We have to talk! Not just speak, but communicate. We must listen and share authentically in order to understand each other well. We should use technology and invent things to make our communication more frictionless. For example, I’m fascinated by a language called Esperanto that was created to be extremely easy to learn, internationally. It combines multiple languages to bridge communication gaps.

If we talk, we'll know each other, and only then can we attempt to solve problems together. It's easier to collaborate with your friends than with strangers, don’t you agree?

We can start at an early age with exchange programs, which I have been part of twice. They are lots of fun and taught me that the world is not that different.

Initially, however, they also taught me what silly, petty ideas make us judge other people.

I had two people from France over to my house for an exchange program, and somehow their actions seemed to represent all views about France for some people around me. At first, stereotypes were formed: "French people bathe very rarely." "They're not good video gamers." “They like using iOS instead of Android.” “They eat everything without cribbing.” Eventually, I realized it is ridiculous that two 13-year-old kids were able to so easily speak for their entire country.

Thus, I believe awareness is very important in uniting the world. Let's not let only one story decide our views on a group. Let's look at things from different perspectives.