Young Minds

Inspired by my quarter-life crisis.

There are no questions that 2012 has been a challenging and difficult year. Oddly enough, this sentence often has friends asking whether I'm "okay" or offering advice and hugs. It concerns me that the idea of facing obstacles is so little encouraged. I have become increasingly aware of how social constructs and our handle on the English language prevent us from expressing our life journey as anything other than positive without concern emanating from those to whom we speak.

Luckily, there are people out there that think the way I do. In the last two days, conversations with incredible new friends attending the Young Minds conference changed my world. They challenged me to be better. To see the possibilities in the problems. They were people who aren't afraid to do what needs to be done rather than waiting for it do "be done." This was not a gathering of people. This was a melting pot of minds.

These were and are people whose presence allowed total immersion in the present moment. Who wanted to discuss how the mental health system functions, how research does not always reflect the present needs of the community, the value of family, the importance of entrepreneurship, and the ways in which we can create an environment for positive change.

I want this change to be for everyone. I don't want these great ideas to sit in the minds and the hands of the already-motivated, of the friends and families of people-doing-great-things. But this requires scalability that reaches the people who need these innovations the most. This requires the fabulous work of Chris Raine, CEO of Hello Sunday Morning, to be heard by people who have yet to question social norms of binge-drinking. This means that Dan Ryan, 2012's Australian UN Youth Representative, has to find people of all different backgrounds willing to share their stories with his open ears. It means that the community needs to be willing to discuss the elephant in Seb Robertson's room, Batyr. It means, as a nation, we must encourage and promote the growth of young Indigenous leaders through the collaboration between FYA, NCIE and Stronger Smarter, headed up by Benson Saulo. It means we need to be ready for the phenomenal work of so many other great minds and organisations in our community.

It concerns me, then, that we live in a community that is often willing accept the mediocre instead of striving for the best. In a community that will complain loudly about the little things and ignore dark storm clouds looming ahead. A community that has no language for discussing journeys, only destinations.

A friend said recently, "I'm on a road called recovery." The difference of switching "to" to "called" hugely influences how we consider her journey and how we conceptualise change. We often focus on the outcome rather than the efforts that it takes to get there, forgetting that arriving is the easy part. The difficulty lies in carving out a path to the future we seek. Our greatest lessons come not from breaking through the ribbon at the finish line but from the arduous and seemingly never-ending battle up a mountain to get there. From the brief pauses to examine the beautiful vista that lies beyond our wearied feet. Because we can forget to value the journey, we often lose the drive to keep pushing through our pain thresholds in order to find our second wind. We stop before we've even started.

When someone asks, "how are you?" how do you respond? And how are you really? Are you constrained by the question, by a lack of reflection on your emotional state or by a social construct that forbids you to be anything other than positive? Why is it acceptable to say "I'm not bad" or "I'm great" to nods of approval but not "I'm feeling really lost" without seeing pity in the eyes of those who asked? Why is it not "okay" to sometimes explore non-positive emotions? Why are difficulties and challenges not encouraged when it is from them we grow most?

The other day, I found out that one of my closest friends from Year 8, who I hadn't seen since that year, died by her own hand. I was saddened, shocked and shaken by the news. But I didn't want to tell many of my friends for the fear that they'd ask "Are you okay?" or pat me on the shoulder with some inane comment like "It'll be alright." It's always seemed odd that we ask people who express something that seems sad whether they're "okay" when it would be uncommon for them to respond "yes". Instead, why don't we ask open questions like "How do you feel?" or "Tell me about it?"

When we open our minds to a more diverse range of questions, we allow ourselves the linguistic freedom to express how we really feel. We open ourselves to the possibility of things that might not even be describable with words. And sometimes that means taking more time to express what's running through our heads that it would otherwise take. It is from this that we find our purpose, our strength and our drive to keep going on whatever lies ahead.

I'm serious about giving young minds the tools to explore language, to tackle social norms and open up opportunities created by a broader experiential base. I'm serious about unfolding the journey in a way in which we can all learn.

Young is not just an age range. It's a state of mind. And a municipality in New South Wales. Change the way you define yourself. The way you categorise and compartmentalise your interactions. Open your mind.

Discovery starts here. And words are my medium.

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