Facing the Biggest Challenges of Our Generation

Facing the Biggest Challenges of Our Generation
Student protesters at a demonstration on 19 February 2018 organized by Teens For Gun Reform, founded by students in the Washington DC area in the wake of the February 14 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.Lorie Shaull, Washington DC

By Gabriel Bichet, Eve Cassavoy, Maddie Hunt, Jasmine Sebastian, and Emma Turner (ENG1100Q), edited by Ruth Bradley-St-Cyr

In September, I took on teaching three sections of ENG1100: Workshop in Essay Writing, a required course for first-year students at the University of Ottawa. Facing 200 students every week really keeps you on your toes, so I like to challenge them in return. Their first assignment was to write, in groups of five, an essay answering the question “What is the biggest challenge facing your generation?” An overwhelming number of students pointed to technology as the biggest challenge, specifically how cell phones run — and ruin — their lives via social isolation, distraction, cyberbullying, and eroding relationships. Some pointed to environmental issues, lack of respect from older generations, or mental health as the biggest challenges. Some looked to the wider world, pointing to “society’s new-found ignorance” and apathy regarding Indigenous issues, rights issues, the news cycle, politics, and “peaceful co-existence.” The following essay touches on many of these issues, and I would like to share it with you as an end-of-year message to all generations. — Ruth Bradley-St-Cyr, Senior Editor, CIPS

Living in the information age, we are often overwhelmed by the tragic content we find while trying to relax in front of our screens. It can be exhausting to discern which news is real, which is fake, and which is so terrible that it makes us numb to the outside world. Finding meaning and purpose in these articles is not our first response; it is much more convenient to post wishful thoughts and prayers rather than attempt to do anything to remedy the situation. Today with social media, our safety bubble, conversing about the world’s biggest issues has become not only a fad, but also a sedative to replace action. Many people convince themselves they have done their part by making a Facebook post, or retweeting something intolerant Donald Trump said, adding only a petty remark in the comment section.

The real solutions to global issues, however, must be concrete, not virtual. Any problem can be solved if people co-operate. Cultural anthropologist Margaret Mead put it this way: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.” The main obstacle to progress, however, is the general apathy of Generation Z (those born since 1999) and trusting that someone else will take care of it. In order to solve problems such as education, climate change, and social equality, one must join the call to arms and take action, rather than join the talk about it. Effective activism can motivate people to take part in change and create sustainable movements.

Lack of Education

Education is a topic that many feel strongly about, especially since most people in Generation Z are currently in school or post-secondary. Lack of quality education is one of the world’s most persistent issues. This problem is not isolated to developing countries where equitable education systems may not yet be in place; North American education systems also have flaws. Activism in developing new schools, or fortifying existing ones, is effective because people have personal ties to the issue, perhaps suffering themselves in various ways from poor schooling. It is in the best interests of Generation Z, therefore, to resist the persistent flaws in education by joining a protest or doing something proactive about education issues. Harnessing our passion and turning it into activism can help mobilize people to change education systems at home and abroad.

Deterioration of the Environment

One of the biggest threats to our generation (and future generations) is the deterioration of the environment. Since this issue affects everyone, there must be more urgency in our communities to help the environment. This is an enormous problem for one person to change, so working in community is essential. Our generation must help educate and involve our communities in environmental issues like pollution and climate change. We can create online information sources, put up posters, and host events to promote environmental awareness and action. The community could start a garden or plants trees for everyone to enjoy. If every household just changed some little things — for example, car sharing, unplugging devices, and changing to energy efficient lightbulbs — it would add up to a big difference for our environment.

Lack of Equality

Lack of equality between races and genders is something that is learned, not natural. Or as Nelson Mandela once said, “No one is born hating another person.” The lack of equality globally requires real-world action rather than online thoughts and prayers. Worldwide, women are still fighting for equal representation, credibility, and even the right to their own bodies. We don’t mean in the developing world; all those statements ring true for the USA, which is supposedly the most powerful country in the world. Women still fight tough battles every day, and where do we hear about it? On social media of course. We see so much on Twitter or Instagram about how people of colour or the LGBTQ+ community are treated unfairly, and yet we fail to act outside of our comments and hashtags. But Instagram is neither a credible source nor a useful response. A repost is not good enough. Real issues like these need real awareness.

Moving Forward

Discussions at school, writing open letters to organizations that can make a difference, and speaking your mind when witnessing inequality first hand are all solutions to our lack of action. Generation Z talks a good game about being socially aware and progressive, but that attitude needs to carry over into real life. Bringing your views to your workplace is a good a start, since it can be a breeding ground for inequality. Calling attention to double standards and working to achieve a safe and equal work environment are all ways to enact change. Social change happens one person at a time, so we need to be those people.

In order to solve a problem, one must first be aware of it. The greatest challenges of Generation Z begin with awareness in order to act on a global scale. We understand right from wrong because our parents and teachers taught us so. The same concept applies to world issues, but it is time to teach ourselves. We must learn about global problems in order to take knowledgeable, calculated, appropriate steps to solve them. Logical insight must undo the arrogant hatred embedded so deeply in so many societies, including our own. Awareness and action offer a way forward on the issues of education, climate change, and lack of equality.

What does it mean to take action on these problems? It means not being distracted, restless, self-absorbed, and plugged in to social media. It means plugging in to the world itself. It means interaction.

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