The good news about young people

Published 6:56 am Sunday, August 5, 2012

Column: Live United, by Ann Austin

The other day I was asked if I missed working at the paper.

As some of you may know, I used to be a staff writer at the Albert Lea Tribune when I first moved to town eight years ago this month. It was an amazing learning experience, but I was also happy to find jobs where I could do more to help this community grow. I am so thankful to still have the outlet to write and have a job where I can work with so many amazing people!

Ann Austin

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One of the phenomena I experienced at the paper was how often people would complain about other people, their living situations, etc. Complaining has always bothered me because I think — well, why don’t we do something about it?

At United Way, we try to focus on what we can do to create better conditions in our community. We have an amazing board of directors, dedicated volunteers on our allocations committee and a variety of community members who continually amaze me with their wisdom and perseverance.

We feature a Volunteer of the Month along with the RSVP program every month, and I have written about many people who are making a difference.

But I am not sure if I’ve written about our youth yet. The youth in our community constantly amaze me with their wisdom, kindness, compassion and enthusiasm. I have had the opportunity to work with young children to college-age young adults, and they all have something to offer our community.

We recently had our second Battle of the Bands event. I wish more people could have witnessed how talented these youth are and how dedicated they are to their music. Each band was allowed to play one cover song, but I only heard original songs during the event, which is impressive! We have so many hidden musical talents, but what else could we be missing out on?

There is a perception that our youth are so focused on electronics, that they don’t have a drive in life, that they don’t care about the state of the world but value money or material things above all.

I do not believe this is true. I see that our young people are frustrated, as many of the rest of us are, with the conditions we are facing right now and the continued uncertainty. They are inheriting the world from us, and it can be quite a scary place.

Sometimes we only see the frustrations, anger, destructiveness or complacency. And, at times, we must peel back several layers to recognize that underneath the frustration there is a real drive to do something meaningful for the world — to make a difference in someone’s life — to stop the destruction.

Complacency sets in when we feel we do not have a voice or that voice is not valued. So how do we turn it around?

I believe people must first know they have choices (we can choose to complain or we can choose to act) and then we all must provide encouragement for each other. Kindness can go a long way; even the simple act of really listening to another person can set the tone for the rest of their day.

One of the wisest young men I have met recently told me about how his goal in life right now is to become a really good listener. People could judge him because he hasn’t had a set direction in life and has gone many different routes. Because he has had the freedom to explore what is right for him, I am very confident he is heading in the right direction now and will not regret the path he has taken.

The greatest gift we can give to our youth to prepare them to be future leaders and great problem-solvers for this world where the problems are becoming more complex, is to simply listen to what they have to say and help them to find a stronger voice within — one that is focused on what they can do.

This task is not up to the parents, teachers, grandparents, pastors, aunts, uncles, etc. alone, but every single person in our community.

One of my favorite messages about our youth comes from Kahlil Gibran:

Your children are not your children.

They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself.

They come through you but not from you,

And though they are with you yet they belong not to you.

You may give them your love but not your thoughts,

For they have their own thoughts.

You may house their bodies but not their souls,

For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow,

which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.

You may strive to be like them,

but seek not to make them like you.

For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.


Ann Austin is the executive director of the United Way of Freeborn County.