Let’s Shift the Label of This GenerationWade Phelps
A few weeks ago, I was standing on the corner of East 68th Street and 1st Avenue. As I closed my eyes I felt the cool wind of a spring night circulate around my body. I was completely in tune to all the amazing and eclectic sounds of the city night. I could hear each one as their very own distinct sound, just as a conductor must hear when steering his orchestra. I became totally present and in the moment to how powerful our world is. A revelation to how each one of us plays such an intricate role and together we create our own music. There was this sense of hustle and bustle within these sounds, and there was a multitude of personal stories intertwined throughout all this movement. There is truly a passion in the still of a cool spring night and if you just close your eyes and focus, and put your own story to the side momentarily, there is possibility, faith, and creation amongst all this hustle and bustle. If there was only a way to connect all of this passion, a way to embody and empower everyone to dream, to accept, to put down their anger and their reactions, to believe, and to unconditionally love through their own actions, then peace on earth could be truly possible. Anything you wanted to create could be truly possible.
If the social media generation of today can overthrow a government, launch a 13 year old to make a million dollars in a week, express discontent and awareness of a politicians’ action, then it surely can unite and shift our planet. Social media could change our world for the better. Back in the 60’s the obvious movement of youth had to be Woodstock, which was trying to send the message of peace and love, which spoke to that entire generation. Youth in the 70’s, in my opinion, began a more segregated way of expression through the development of the rock, punk, and disco scenes. I think that may have been the beginning of what I tend to call the disempowered generations. Not being from that generation, someone else may be able to intellectually disagree with me and my viewpoint is totally surface in nature. The 80’s youth began to show promise of hope and faith through their music (okay – fine – that may be a totally biased opinion) but I do not think anyone can argue that the birth of the video game and computer started to impact and shift society on several layers. Life sped up at an extreme rate and to this day only gets quicker, and I am not so sure we have caught up on an emotional level yet. The 90’s youth led the pack with the grunge, Nirvana, emo; I don’t care about life decade. It was a completely disempowered world. It was as if the culmination of a cycle was coming to a close, a constant sense of giving up, with not much faith or empowerment being instilled whatsoever in our youth, which was evident in their own actions, or should I say inactions. Since then, we have what I call the “instantaneous gratification” generation of what is the next best cell phone, computer, IPod, Ipad, Itouch, I this, I that… I, I, I… or better known as the me, me, me generation… Don’t get me wrong, I know this isn’t true of all of us, and here at WOO, we have many youth that could easily rebuttal that through their own actions, but generally speaking, this is the society we are living in. So, I ask, what is next? The system – many systems – our world, is on overload and when things are on overload, something has to burst. Something has to give. Have you ever watched The Story of Stuff? If not, go YouTube it at the end of this reading. Every person in this world should watch it. (See, even I sign up for the immediate gratification concept)…
If we look at all the expressions of youth and society in general through these decades as a cycle, then perhaps it is time to return to the beginning of the cycle. Maybe even before Woodstock and way back to the 50’s when family mattered more and was a priority for everyone. I do think we need another Woodstock, minus the drugs, but we need something that is grandeur like that, but has the voice of this generation – the voice of social media. What if the youth of today actually used social media and technological advances to start having conversations around the world, country to country, youth to youth, to discuss the multitude of issues, brainstorm possible solutions, and celebrate who they are in an act of global leadership… in an act of saying enough is enough… in an act of saying it is time. Social media makes the world a much smaller and much more manageable place. I know some great leaders out there starting such projects. Just yesterday in WOO headquarters, sitting around a coffee table, 7 of my youth leaders spoke to about 10 youth leaders from Kenya for 2 hours. 2 hours of amazing dialect. 2 hours of let’s get to know each other and let’s talk again. Something beautiful was born in those talks. We were in their office and they were in ours… sharing dreams… sharing stories… sharing pain. There were no miles or oceans in between us. I thought to myself “How easy! Why aren’t we all doing this?” The Dream Out Loud Festival, which was started and runs annually in Kenya will be coordinated by WOO in NY in 2012. Maybe we should all be dreaming out loud. Maybe we should all be in action and not in reaction. Maybe the pain needs to stop for all of us and we need to move forward in a positive light. Love in Action is another program that is coexisting in Toronto and here in New York. What do you love and how can you take what you love and use it to impact the world? If we empowered our youth and allowed them to come up with sustainable solutions for our planet, what would be possible? Heck, if we each allowed a space for ourselves to come up with solutions, what could we create? What if we just taught our youth simply to be empowered to just do what they love in a positive light?
I am amazed daily by the youth at WOO and by my team who works completely for free, gives their heart and soul, their days and nights, their lunch hours, and dinner breaks to constantly create projects, ideas, solutions, and ways to address issues of importance to them. Shifting the modeling and fashion industry to create fairer standards, promoting the need for Eating Disorders education, creating films and web series to bring light to youth issues, and teaching their peers about a variety of causes or issues important to youth is just the tip of the iceberg. It’s not only my team and our youth that are amazing though. I am so impressed with what my friend Kasia is doing in East Africa working with the Embu Youth AIDS Advocates. My friend Sherry went to work with the miners in Brazil. My Love in Action counterpart, Theresa, in Toronto is creating many shifts in the world through her projects. Her team is phenomenal. The incredible people at United Global Shift who are educating leaders on sustainable change… the conversations and projects coming out of that organization alone is powerful enough to bring peace to this planet. In other words, the work is beginning. It may not look like Woodstock yet, but the time is now. The leaders are out there and there is a leader in all of us. No more anger. No more reaction in a negative light. No more pain. Let’s shift our planet. Let’s live a positive life. The label of this generation needs to be shifted. Let’s not be the instantaneous gratification angry generation. Global leadership and a global shift towards saving this planet ARE going to be the labels of this generation. Walt Disney once said, “All our dreams can come true – if we have the courage to pursue them.” What dream for yourself and for this planet will you pursue today?