The future lies in the hands of young people

By Constanza Kaliks, October 2020

That being young should be the subject of an academic discipline, an independent field of learning and research, was comprehensible only to a few people at the beginning when Rudolf Steiner brought the “Section for the Spiritual Striving of Youth” into being as a department of the School of Spiritual Science at the Goetheanum in Dornach.

Photo: © Charlotte Fischer

The insight that youth as part of the biography of a person acquires special importance for society as a whole grew in the course of the twentieth century: from the Wandervogel movement in Germany in the early years of the last century through the protest movements of the 1960s to the Fridays For Future demonstrations of the present, the voices of the young generation are becoming ever more audible.

What is experienced by society as a whole as a challenge appears in young people in an existential form. One example is the exploitation and exclusion through which the economic system places the lives of millions of young people worldwide at risk in that it pushes them into unemployment (see the United Nations World Youth Report). Youth unemployment is an overwhelming problem in many countries. Young people are forced to experience that not only is their material existence under threat but also their desire to contribute to shaping and participating in society. This leads to the particularly intense experience for many young people that they are actually superfluous and a danger for the world.

At the same time young people are characterised by an opposite sense of hope and optimism: the whole world is still open, anything is possible. In a unique form, the young person experiences the tension between longings and facts which “bring them down to earth” and determine their biography. On the one hand the deep longing to be able to experience and realise their own efficacy in and through the connection with other people; on the other hand great disappointment and disillusionment. In this biographical phase friendship, love, solidarity and the will to act, but also pain, anger and disgust can be experienced in often unparalleled intensity.

Be they positive or negative: experiences in youth shape the whole biography. Greatest ideals but also preconceptions which are difficult to overcome can inscribe themselves for the whole of life during this time. Own experiences are elevated as the yardstick also for others. This reveals a central aspect of being young: the sheer unlimited power of human becoming which rises to consciousness in the encounter with other people and the world.

This explains why being young can be elevated to a discipline of spiritual science: the individual experience of the potency of what is developing in a person’s own biography should be allowed to articulate itself – in knowing and keeping itself connected with others. The “spiritual striving of youth” is intended to be an expression of the longing to intervene to shape the world, an expression of the affirmation of the individual decision to participate in the development of society and take responsibility for nature and the earth.

In his address to young people in 1924, Rudolf Steiner speaks about the challenge of finding a new soul mood as a necessity for crossing the period between the twentieth and thirtieth year of age in a living way without being drawn into a “grey misery of the soul”. He speaks about festivals of hope and expectation – of hope for the future which does not require contoured ideals but which builds on what is human, on the fact of standing face to face with another person, finding each other and staying connected.

Almost half a century later the philosopher Emmanuel Levinas sees the nature of youth in the authenticity of its humanity: “Youth is authenticity. But youth defines itself through honesty – not the brutality of confession and the violence of the deed but the approach to the other, the concern for one’s neighbour which arise from human vulnerability. Capable [...] of rediscovering responsibility, youth has [...] stopped being the age of transition and transit [...] to reveal itself as the humanity of the human being” (L’humanisme de l’autre homme, 1987).

The accuracy of what Levinas describes here becomes particularly clear when we consider what could be heard among young people worldwide in recent months on the urgent questions of the relationship with the earth as the basis of all human existence. That raises the question as to the extent to which society is capable of hearing these voices and actively welcoming the participation of young people. The inclusion of young people in helping to shape society cannot be done for them but the spaces in which they can take action must be formed by and with young people in creative forms of their own. Recognition of the necessity of including the expectations and values of young people is explicitly mentioned in the UN Youth Report (December 2018).

There is a clear difference in what the child and the young person require from the older generation: with the child the responsibility for their development and an environment in which they can grow and develop healthily lies unequivocally with the adult. In contrast, it is up to young people themselves to shape their developmental opportunities and in doing so to learn to take responsibility for themselves in their relationship with the world. The will to do so, which can come to expression loudly or quietly, crucially contains the seeds of the future – and it is thus an expression of time and its spirit. Recognising and perceiving this dimension is the task of anthroposophical youth work – as an open field for what lives in the striving of young people and what wants to develop out of it.

About the author: Dr Constanza Kaliks is the head of the Youth Section at the Goetheanum in Dornach

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