When five years ago Greta Thunberg rebelled on Fridays by not going to school and protesting for animals and the environment, little did she know that she would one day address the United Nations General Assembly and become world famous. There was idealism, not strategy or calculation.
This reminds me of my desire to start Young Jains 35 years ago in London, as a forum for young people to meet and translate Jain wisdom in the western world. Little did I realise then that it would become a global movement and fire young people to have a deeper sense of purpose and meaning, in spite of the white canvas of language, culture and education.
In 1990 we announced to the UK community that we were embarking on a youth exchange to North America. Here again there was a goal but not much calculation. When we went to community leaders for support, all we heard back was that we were ‘too ambitious’. We spent a year in planning and created from scratch a variety show which we would carry to each City. Skits which showed the contradictions of family life helped bring humour and realism to an audience in America who had not before seen youthful idealism tinged with hypocrisy and creative expression.
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The first ever Jain bridge between the UK and North American communities was built by young people. History has proven the power of that idealism – the photo shows a recent reunion of delegates when Saurabh Dalal visited from the US. The friendships that were built then continue to this day, and some of the learnings were used to revive Jain diaspora in the UK through imaginative leadership and inspirational conferences.
As we reflect on COP27 and the huge betrayal of current and future generations by the age of greed and materialistic hubris, let us remember the critical importance of idealism and be ready to encourage youth ambition in building a more equal and harmonious planet. Their future depends on it. Parents have a tendency to control and direct – sadly human society is heading in an unknown direction with calamitous consequences.
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The least we can do is to get out of the way, and instead facilitate their vision. It starts with listening and risk. And let them make their own mistakes.
Professor Atul K. Shah [@atulkshah] teaches and writes about Indian wisdom on business, culture and community at various UK universities and is a renowned international author, speaker and broadcaster.