At the end of our year of project delivery, we hold thank you events for our hard-working mentors. This post is adapted from Chief Executive Luke Wilkinson’s address to all 2016-17 mentors:
While you have been hard at work in the past few weeks with your exams, the whole country has been absorbed in the campaigning following the announcement of a snap General Election on 8th June. The nation has also mourned as a horrific attack in Manchester claimed the lives of 22 young people. How do we make sense of these confusing and scary times? And how can we play our part in building a society where people of different backgrounds and opinions can live alongside each other in peace?
I’m sure, like me, many of you are utterly jaded with party politics – although I think I have voted at every opportunity since I was 18, I have never had much faith in the system. It has always seemed a fairly futile exchanging of one set of politicians and policies for another.
However a few years ago I had a change of heart. I was reading an article that was criticising Russell Brand (and by association millennials like you and me) for suddenly having pretensions of being a political commentator when he had never before engaged with the political establishment. The accusation being that if you are so politically apathetic that you don’t even vote, then you don’t deserve an opinion.
And this annoyed me. So I wrote to the New Statesman to tell them, and the following week they published my letter. So that left me feeling nicely vindicated. Luke 1: 0 Establishment. And what I said was this – we (millennials) are far from apathetic. In fact many of us care very deeply and are finding new and creative ways to address the concerns we have about our world in spite of, rather than within, party politics.
And that’s what you have been doing for the past 8 months. You have been political in the truest sense: having a concern for, and taking positive action to make a difference. You have used the time, the gifts and talents you have to serve others in society. You have taken into your own hands the responsibility for making a change.
During the projects you’ve been mentoring on, you’ve helped young people to grow and to develop as they explored what it meant to become a person of good character. And I hope as you’ve helped them, it has also given you food for thought, and that you too have grown as a person. Because that is what our society needs: more people trying to live good lives and put others first. And here I find myself agreeing with Russell Brand: what we need is not a political revolution, but a spiritual one.
(Just as an aside, if you find Russell Brand a bit distasteful and want a slightly more highbrow example, I’ve just finished reading a book by Leo Tolstoy which makes more or less the same point in about 500,000 more words. And Tolstoy was one of the main formative influences on Ghandi, who actually brought about some serious changes in the world. Whereas to my knowledge Russell Brand has yet to inspire the overthrow of an oppressive ruling empire! But there’s still time.)
Think for a moment about the model that Citywise uses to help young people grow: the four character virtues. And if you apply some of those virtues to society, they can help you imagine the kind of world you want to live in:
- Fairness: do all in our societies get what they need to thrive? How do we treat the vulnerable, how to we hold those in power to account?
- Self-control: how as a nation do we engage in foreign affairs? Do we use our global economic power responsibly?
So when you vote on the 8th June, vote for parties, vote for candidates, that embody the virtues you want to see more of in our society. But more importantly, become the kind of person who makes a positive difference wherever you find yourself. In your relationships, in your workplace, in your local neighbourhood – be a person of good character.
And whether or not you continue volunteering with Citywise next year (I certainly hope you do!), I want to encourage you to always be on the lookout for ways to give to others. This year you have helped to change the life of one young person in Manchester. But as you go through life you will meet other people in need of your love. The homeless person you walk past each day, the lonely elderly person who lives next door. Look out for those in need around you. Because it truly is better to give than to receive: that’s where we become truly alive.
This post is adapted from a speech given at the Manchester mentor thank you event on 19th May and updated in light of the Manchester attacks on 22nd May.