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Prophets of hope beginning right now

Growing up in Proserpine was a simple thing. The big questions of my life were few. Could I get twenty coconuts pealed in time for the school fete to be sold to raise money for the Sisters mission in PNG? Would there be yabbies’ in the ditches beside the sugar cane after heavy rain? When would the next First Day Cover come out for my stamp collection? When was Uncle Eddie coming over to teach me how to use a lawnmower? What Cub and Scout badge would I be going for next? All in all it was a simple life.

I did not know what vaping was but I did know that some of my mates would have a puff of a cigarette after the movie at the local cinema. Even young Damien was known to chew furiously on gum on the way home from same so that Zena and Frank would not smell cigarette smoke on him. I don’t think I even used the word ‘drugs’ until I began teaching let alone engage with them and most families in our little town stayed together and marriage breakup, at least according to my young mind, was a rare thing. Sure, our town had a couple of elderly men who often smelt of alcohol but generally they were friendly and almost always called me by either of my older brothers’ names. And it was a real adventure when, at age 16, two mates of mine snuck into a local pub with me and we ordered a beer (in the lounge bar). Half frozen in fear of being caught we did not even think when we gave our real names to the bloke coming around selling tickets in the ‘meat tray’. To my dying day I will never forget looking up at the huge blackboard in the Metropole to see that “Damien Price had won a six-pack” – one that he was too scared to collect.

All so innocent. Recently I was facilitating a conference and in between sessions sat in on a workshop. One Power Point slide in particular caused me concern. It portrayed a small group of children on a beach with a series of ‘tidal waves’ heading towards them. The first way was labelled COVID 19, the second Recession, the third – a much higher wave was labelled Climate change and the fourth and huge wave, labelled species extinction. The presenter suggested there were many other tidal waves facing the youth of today.

Not that long ago I found myself facilitating a twilight retreat with a group of 14 and 17 year old young men and women. The twilight retreat was all about boundaries, respectful relationship, personal self respect, respect for the other and healthy sexuality. The retreat was in response to a series of ugly, disrespectful social media incidents between boys and girls when some terrible things were said that badly put down and disrespected others. On another occasion in the last month I was working with a large group of 16 year old boys and girls and discussing with them what their world is like and how to find your voice and honour your innate dignity within it. In the midst of the discussion one young woman said,

“I am really scared, social media follows you everywhere, you can’t escape it!”

It is no secret that the amount and severity of mental health issues among our young people has never been higher. More and more young people are in counselling and using prescriptive medicine. The issues facing our young people are complex and multi-layered and sadly the wisdom figures that once mentored young people into adulthood are losing or have lost their influence. The Churches, the school and even to some extent the family are losing their power and ability to influence.

More than ever then we are needing adults and young people on their journey to adulthood to stand up and be courageous. We are needing, more than ever, to be prophets of hope. It is NOT all doom and gloom. We can make a difference. We do have agency. Our voice is important. We are not powerless.

The first point of attack in this battle, and it is a battle, is for the adult community to witness to maturity, to self discipline, to higher and deeper values, to a higher good beyond immediate emotional fixes. We can’t have employees in the corporate sector engaging in alcohol and drug induced work parties and expect our young people to seek a higher standard. We can’t have casual ‘flings’ and affairs to be normal, expected and not that problematic and expect young people to grow into a strong sense of the dignity of their psycho-sexual identity. We can’t have a greed driven marketplace that takes no prisoners, where our fellow human beings are expendable and mere cannon fodder for the profit margin and expect our youth to dream of global responsibility and to care for our common home: mother Earth.

Perhaps our second point of attack is to name the bullshit for what it is. We need to call out Social Media and equip ourselves and our young people with the critical thinking skills to see its façade, its shallowness and its hypocrisy. We need logic. We need reason. We need social analysis skills. We need to call out the power players that are nothing more than profit driven puppeteers of the innocent. But we need to do this courageously and intelligently for they are powerful and highly skilled in disempowering anyone or anything that challenges their power. It is NOT Ok for some Social Media platforms to make billions on the backs of cyber bullying of youth from other youth. It is NOT ok for politicians and the corporate sector to peddle in lies and manipulate truth to suit their selfish agenda. It is NOT ok for whole industries to make billions from trashy sexuality and sexual exploitation. My father who loved journalism, would turn in his grave at the shallow, manipulative, interest group serving rubbish that some still brazenly call reporting.

Pornography is bullshit. Child exploitation in any form in bullshit. Social Media that thrives on creating fear and violence and poverty through labelling and the use of part truths is bullshit. The rich getting richer on the backs of the poor is bullshit and anathema to the Gospel. Shallow, short lived sexual or drug induced highs that only leave the person empty and burdened with a morning after nothingness are bullshit.

Thirdly, and perhaps most importantly we need to professionally and deliberately teach and create narratives of hope for ourselves and our young people. Hope is based upon love. Hope is fed by truth. Hope faces fear and stares it down. Hope knows truth. Hope is courageous and determined. Hope is a long distance runner and not a short term sprinter. Hope’s roots go deep into dignity, true freedom, selflessness and generosity. Hope is not naïve or shallow. Hope’s narrative / story is strong and reasoned and names the bullshit for what it is.

We need to teach the skills of true critical thinking so that young people can see the façade for themselves, see the hypocrisy for themselves, see the power driven manipulation for themselves. More importantly we need, alongside true critical thinking, to gift our young people with fidelity and love driven experiences so that they see and know and honour true beauty, true dignity, true love and truth itself, where and when they engage with it.

Tomorrow is Monday. This sacred journey begins with me (and you), today and tomorrow, wherever we find ourselves – there really is no Planet B, no committee or no other time to begin this battle or sacred journey. If not you – then who? If not now – then when? If not here – then where?

3 thoughts on “Prophets of hope beginning right now”

  1. Oh Damien, how true. You read life so well. Continue being part of those gatherings of young girls and boys where they are listened to and where they will listen in return.
    God go with you Damien.

  2. Thanks, Damien, another on point reflection on a topic which is of increasing importance. We had an in-depth conversation on this very topic at the EREA morning tea table today – I have passed on this article to those who were part of the conversation. All the best, Eamonn

  3. So well said and impassioned Damien. In this rapidly changing age of technology and AI, with facts and lies presented as identical and with such far reach. Educators must quickly give serious thought to placing critical thinking, including psychological understanding, in a more hallowed place in the curriculum that we offer our youth….and adults.
    Thank you for being the brave champion you are.

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