Generation Why Blog by Aik Kramer
Here comes GenWhy!!!
Imagine that you grow up in a global village, where a multitude of cultures and value-systems are cosmically bound to co-exist. Now imagine that information flows at your fingertips.Your world consists of intricate systems of social relations, that you tinker with everyday of your life. You do your best to make a positive difference, but you are still human, a social organism, a species that is still evolving.
Young adults today
Young people nowadays have a bad image. They are said to be apathetic and socially disconnected. Dutch statistics show that a mere one percent of Dutch youth is a member of a political party, but does this suggest a low level of their public participation? In a word, no.
Young people today do participate in society actively, but in a world characterized by globalization, individualization, multiculturalism and digitization, this participation takes on a different form. Other generations just fail to recognize it.
Globalization often imposes on young people a situation of information overload. The young Dutch philosopher, Rob Wijnberg, argues that the ‘apathy’ of young people towards politics constitutes a kind of self-defence mechanism. “Every day we are being inundated by world events and their tragedies, so much so that we are compelled to draw up a wall in defence.”
Their ‘apathy’ can therefore be seen as a manifestation of the realization that some conflicts simply lie outside of their control. Even basic social institutions, such as marriage or the banking industry, can collapse suddenly. In the global village the question “What is my role in society?” has also taken on a global dimension, and one that is increasingly less distinct from the local.
Another social development putting pressure on young people is individualization. From a young age they are expected to make sensible choices and ‘plan their future’. Belgian psychologist Maria Bouverne-De Bie states: “Young people are expected to show both greater independence and a high degree of self-control. The assumption is that they are able to behave responsibly from the start. Self-control and moral responsibility are in fact prerequisites for social participation, without there being any kind of instruction as to how.”
Nowadays young people live in a society with contemporaneous (and sometimes conflicting) cultures and value-systems. The ability to deal with these differences and conflicts is an essential social skill, but how does one acquire this skill? How do you deal with the capricious forces of group-identity? How do you address anti-social behaviour when in some sub-cultures a criminal record denotes status? Please note: The difficult interaction between some subcultures and authorities isn’t so much caused by cultural differences but rather by a clash between civil and street cultures.
Dutch Author Hans Kaldenbach states the following in his book Respect!: “Youth in the street-culture have turned away from the mainstream of society. They’re convinced that authorities cannot be trusted. Politicians and the taxman are out to get you, judges favor their own social group, managers are crooks and big business wants to skin you. (…) ‘Street-culture’ represents a mixture of apathy and rebellion.”
Where are the teachers?
Young people who have become estranged from society, find refuge in a street culture that turns away from social developments but at the same time provides recognition. Group processes among youth greatly influence the formation of their identity. However, to participate successfully in society, they will have to shape their own ‘civil’ society. Until then, they will oscillate between various cultures, groups and institutions. In this learning process social skills are of the essence, but are often presupposed: young people are expected to make independent choices, be flexible and act morally, but who will show them how?
Internet and other media are an integral part of young peoples’ social life. Networks like MySpace and Facebook give new meaning to the term ‘communication skills’. Are those who lock themselves in their rooms to engage in role playing games actually socially inactive? Dutch author Menno Hurenkamp introduced the concept of light communities to describe these new social relations. Nowadays people meet and participate in communities where it is hard for a government to ‘keep score’. Young people may not join a political party but they do join groups, sub-cultures or an digital community, often several.
These ‘light communities’ are increasingly geared towards collaboration, such as the open source encyclopedia Wikipedia or the numerous DIY-forums. Together, they generate an incredible productive power, but are hard to govern. Looking beyond the stereotypes of young people today and focusing on their individual lives, a generation emerges that truly wants to participate in (a global) society, and that has all the tools for it.
The struggle for recognition
What does it take to enable members of a community to participate effectively? Author/philosopher Axel Honneth states that recognition is quintessential. A social institution like formal legality (a legal system based on formal equality) is insufficient by itself. In the ‘struggle for recognition’ he identifies three phases and therefore three conditions for social participation: self-confidence, self-respect and self-esteem. For the development of self-esteem, recognition of the unique contribution of the individual is needed. “Whereas self-respect is a matter of viewing oneself as entitled to the same status and treatment as every other person, self-esteem involves a sense of what it is that makes one special, unique and (in Hegel’s terms) ‘particular’. (…) What distinguishes one from others must be valuable.”
Mediation (skills) as essential social competencies
Below are a number of examples of social competencies of young people in a world characterized by globalization, individualization, multiculturalism and digitization. We can now see their development of self-confidence, self-respect and self-esteem; from making choices via social competencies to participation in the form of a valuable contribution to society. Out of these competencies emerges the character and quality of a mediator. Today’s youth is a generation skilled in communication. Their early experience in making independent choices and their relativistic attitude could be the start of a new way of dealing with conflicts. They have the freedom to shape their own lives but in order to be successful and achieve recognition they must be able to solve conflicts and shape their own learning processes.
Examples of mediation skills as social competencies:
Self-reflection (on content, emotion and intention);
Making independent choices;
De-escalation and meta-communication in conflict situations;
Solution-focused thinking and acting;
Shaping one’s own learning- and group processes.
In these social competencies we clearly see a shift from specialist skills to a type of ‘process-thinking’ that is typical in mediation. Young people have to adjust to a social system that increasingly requires flexibility. Here the mediator steps in as a role model. Mediation skills provide these social competencies and therefore mediation empowers young people.
What does Generation Why do?
Generation Why, based in Haarlem, the Netherlands, has established a platform and center of expertise for young mediators. Firstly, by creating a website and digital community. Secondly, by opening a real life peer-mediation office in the public library of Haarlem. There we collaborate with public and private institutions on practical solutions to the typical challenges of the global village.
With the use of mediation skills young people can make choices, shape their collaboration and even participate in social institutions. This not only strengthens their current position in society, but also provides the platform for ownership of public institutions in future. To do this, we make use of the positive force of peer mediation -mediation by and between peers. Peer mediation has emerged from the field of education, where it has amply proven to be an effective tool for empowerment.
Peer mediation in the public arena
Generation Why wants to apply peer mediation beyond the field of education. Even group processes that sometimes lead to destructive behaviour can be a source of productivity. Peers share a perception of the environment; within a peer group young people can share experiences and learn from one another. In the (peer) mediator they find a mentor and a role model.
Because of this target audience, this adolescent form of peer mediation will be aimed less at traditional mediation and more at individual conflict skills and group processes. Peer mediation gives young people the tools to ‘stand up for themselves’ by making use of their own motivation and their need for recognition and finding their own solutions and outcomes.
Are you a mediator?
With its platform Generation Why supports young mediators, and through its website enables them to become more visible. Also, Generation Why wants to facilitate this ‘light community’ of young mediators by organizing various kinds of activities. Generation Why is convinced that in future mediators will fulfill an important role in solving social issues. Peer mediators are, by definition, in step with their generation and can help make complex social conflicts involving youth and young adults manageable again.