I was at a Lumineers concert the other day and I was having a blast. I was trying to gauge other people’s reactions to the music, as I often do at concerts, when something caught my eye. What on the surface appeared to be a rowdy group of young teenagers having fun at a concert, looked like something very different upon closer inspection. As these young people were “bumming” smokes and drinks from others, their smiles and laughter looked to be an attempt to cover up a deeper insecurity.
Insecurity in teenagers is nothing new, but as the 2013 World Youth Alliance International Summer Camp director, I have been thinking about young people a lot in the last few months of preparation for the camp. I suddenly found myself unaware of the band playing and instead became preoccupied with thoughts about the intricacies and complications of being a youth.
These high school students weren’t just insecure; they were crying out for attention. They were clutching their beers, chugging away for maximum effect. They were spluttering and hacking at what I presumed to be their first cigarettes. The girls were flirting with some of the boys, though, only the seemingly popular boys, who in turn were bullying people around them, though, only the ones that they knew they could get away with bullying. All of them clinging to desperately clinging to some vague notion of what it is to be a “grown up”.
Just like when I was in high school, the least important things mattered the most and the most important things mattered the least. But you don’t know that when you’re that age. At least I didn’t. And so, I guess I saw myself in those kids. I began to remember all the pressures of being that age, as my time in High School came back to me in a flood of negative memories. I remember getting into situations where I did what I thought would work out for the best only to have my conscience come back in full force and berate me for doing what I really did know was wrong. But I made these same choices again and again. I saw myself in all those young people at the concert.
It wasn’t until I attended the World Youth Alliance International Solidarity Forum in grade twelve that I finally wanted to remake myself. When I went through the WYA Track A program, I was struck by C.S. Lewis’ take on humans as “struggling, caring beings,” but I always read it the wrong way. I interpreted it more to mean that I struggle to care, and I do, all the time. Like always. But that is what makes life so special and that is why youth need the World Youth Alliance just as much as the World Youth Alliance needs youth.
We all need ways to express that which we already know: that it’s ok to be kind rather than cool. To quote one of my favourite authors, F. Scott Fitzgerald: “I was within and without, simultaneously enchanted and repelled by the inexhaustible variety of life.” We are always “within and without” as human beings, and to understand that is to start to understand the importance of saying that we all have dignity. That is, to see a reflection of ourselves in each person and understand the mutual dignity we all share. I needed these lessons. I craved them without knowing I craved them. But, once I was given the WYA language I understood what I needed to fill the emptiness I had felt in high school, in order to stop drifting aimlessly, as a lot of youth are. That is why I can’t wait to see WYA’s growth over the years. I can’t wait for the future to see how this organization unfolds, unrolling and impacting youth in the positive ways only WYA can.
By Peter Halpine, WYA International Summer Camp Director