It is OK to say “No!” The whole room sat up and listened. The beautiful young woman – a Year 12 – looked at the group of Year 9’s and with a conviction born from her life’s journey she repeated, “It is more than OK to say no!” It was a twilight retreat where Year 11’s and 12’s shared their life experience of respect and the lack of respect in relationships with Year 9’s. We had asked them, “What would you have loved to have heard (about healthy and respect filled relationships) when you were in Year 9?” The motivation for the twilight retreat came from the increasing pressure and patterns of behaviour on line, at parties and in other social situations where the innate dignity of self and the other was not being respected.
Later that same evening one of the Year 9 boys when I invited anyone to share something they had heard that had really touched them spoke up, “If I have to change who I am to be in a relationship with someone then that relationship is not worth being in!” Yippie!!!!
The world our young people travel is far more complex than when I was a teenager. I did not live in ‘chat rooms’, I did not have pressure placed upon me to share images over the internet, I did not ride an emotional roller coaster dependent upon whether I get ‘likes’ or ‘dislikes’ on some post and I was not hostage to some faceless post that questioned my integrity or personhood.
Our beautiful young people are needing our adult world not to play games with them – manipulate them, use them, profit from their misery or exploit them in a hundred ways. Our beautiful young people need us to relate, listen and encourage them to dream their dreams – becoming their best self.
I often speak about Crossroads: those moments in time when a choice comes our way that is personal and directly speaks to the person we are and want to be. Do I cheat on my partner? Do I do drugs? Do I access pornography? Do I backstab? Do I speak cheaply and disrespectfully about people on line? Do I pressure others to follow me down the path to the lowest common denominator?
Do I walk away from compromise? Do I make a simple choice so that I will be proud of myself the following morning when I look at myself in the mirror? Do I be a true friend to those I walk with? Do I work for the best and only true ‘high’ – the natural high that comes from pushing myself to be my best physically, emotionally, intellectually and spiritually? Do I ignore the bleating of the herd and listen to the whisper of authenticity within?
At parties, on line and in clubs our young people are swamped in an emotionally complex world – where image and peer expectations – driven by profit and rating driven media – care little to nothing about dignity, respect, true freedom or joy. It is all about the next headline, the rating, being an influencer – the influencer to less than, to lack of self worth, to compromise and to pain.
This world has a totally distorted view of freedom – freedom is NOT ‘I can do what I want, when I want and how I want!’ Freedom is choosing beyond the immediate feeling, desire or drive to the space of integrity and authenticity where I can be my best self and in doing so gift others. True freedom dances with self-discipline. True freedom honours and respects boundaries. True freedom enables, ennobles and leaves you with a deep peace.
In the midst of this there is a whole generation of young people desperately looking for, longing for , wanting and wishing for some ONE to stand up. Some ONE to say, “No!” Some ONE to say, “this is bullshit!” Some ONE to simply but firmly claim the higher ground of self respect, dignity and worth.
As I prepared my material and process to engage with a large group of wonderful young people attempting to find a way through the present day minefield of abuse, lack of boundaries and respect, I interviewed two wonderful young people. These young people gently and humbly shared with me the importance of listening to and trusting your ‘gut feeling’.
Despite the minefield and despite the multi-layered and constant attack on respect in the context of sexuality I believe it is actually not as big a battle as some would think. The battle to create a world of respect filled, fun filled, dignity filled, life filled relationship that gives life to our sexuality.
- Ask yourself, BEFORE you go out, before you enter the chatroom or the party – ‘Who do I want to be?’
- Have a ‘five second’ game plan – some small practical response / plan that you will enact when the Cross roads come your way – party with a group whose values you share, become King of the dance-floor, that ‘one liner’ that comes from the heart, “No thanks, I don’t do that stuff!”
- If you can make those powerful five second choices of respect for self and those you love – the good news is that it WILL get easier and easier – the choices begin to become your badge of who you are – AND people will deeply respect it.
- Have real and true fun and enjoy the journey.
- Stretch yourself to be your best self physically, emotionally, intellectually and spiritually.
- Trust YOUR GUT feeling.
- Surround yourself with friends who share your values.
- Forgive yourself when you fail – and get up again stronger and more determined – and wiser too.
- Call out the bullshit for what it is – dignity, self respect lowering crap!
- Write your own number 10 from the wisdom of YOUR journey.
There is a truly beautiful passage in the Old Testament prophet – Isaiah Chapter 40.
“Young men may grow tired and weary, youths may stumble, but those who hope in Yahweh, will put out wings like eagles, they will run and not grow weary – walk and never tire!”
May our young people in the area of respect filled sexuality KNOW that they never walk alone and that our God of total and unconditional love walks every step of the way beside them and lives deep within them as well. May our wonderful young people soar like eagles and in so doing see vistas that will call them to dream what they thought impossible and now know is their birth right.