All hope is not lost
Trevor Lwere | Monday, February 15, 2021
It has been more than one year since COVID-19 beset us. Indeed, on its own, the pandemic would have been enough to make the past one year memorable. Yet, the oddity continues to unfold in what will probably go down as one of, if not the most challenging year — and certainly the most unusual year—of our lifetimes. From the summer of protests to the specter of a besieged Capitol Hill. And whereas these events have inspired rare human solidarity at local, national and international levels, the experience has also had the effect of dampening hope for change, especially for young people all around the world.
Youth have two historic societal roles. First is to act as a mirror for society, bringing into clear focus the contradictions in society. Second is to be the motivating force for progress in society, working towards the resolution of the contradictions in society. In sum, the role of subsequent generations of youth is to improve society. Yet, what we are experiencing seems to be stretching our capacity to play this crucial role in society. For some, it has and continues to be an overwhelming experience; for others, an exhausting one. Indeed, many young people have resigned themselves to complacency and apathy, while other have altogether abandoned any hope for a radically different world. Yet, that is just one possible way of reading the situation.
Yet, whereas all the doom and gloom can be overwhelming, to resign ourselves to sheer desperation and hopelessness, to leave the world to the devices of those most interested in maintaining the status quo, is to abandon our historic role of being both the mirror and the motivating force for progress in society. On the contrary, rather than dampening our hopes and ambition for a radically different world, I would like to suggest that this experience should instead embolden our resolve. The challenges we face, while numerous, are not insurmountable. In fact, they should serve to us as a lesson about the true nature of change — a slow, painstaking, zig-zag process.
Indeed, this experience has been a rude awakening of sorts: a realization that the wheels of progress do not move at a rate proportional to the intensity of our passion. That whereas most of us genuinely would like to see society cured of all its ills and to see every human being living the best possible life, the system, an abstract creature that can also be understood as the vanguard of the status quo, doesn’t appear to be ready and willing to cede ground to our ambition and aspirations. But we should not despair; all hope is not lost.
From this we ought to pick two important lessons for our change-seeking efforts. First, that to change the world, we must engage it on its terms and not on our terms. This lesson is a powerful one as it helps to temper our youthful idealism and zeal by awakening us with the concrete reality on the ground that is quite different from how we imagine things in our heads. In other words, we ought to realize that the world will not conform itself to our ideas; we must conform ourselves to its ideas to be able to push towards the ideal. To be clear, conforming to the ideas of the world does not mean selling out or giving in to the status quo. Rather, it means acknowledging the nature and reality of what we are up against and strategizing accordingly.
The second lesson is for us to clearly define what our mission as a generation is. Franz Fanon famously said that “each generation out of relative obscurity must discover its mission and choose to betray it or fulfill it.” Fanon invites us to acknowledge that whereas we may not be able to heal the world of all its wounds, we ought to identify what is possible to heal within our lifetime. That is, whereas everything seems to be broken and requires our attention, we cannot possibly bring out a whole new world, in absolute terms, in just one lifetime. In other words, we must establish what our role is in the grander scheme of the world, given the present circumstances of the world, the nature of the challenges we encounter and the capacity that the tools available to us can afford us. This lesson is very important for us if we are to avoid the hopelessness and desperation that that happenings of this past one year have occasioned on our mojo to work towards a better world.
Together, these lessons do not imply that we ought to abandon our passion and aspiration for change. Far from it, they encourage us to maintain our energy and zeal for a radically different world but channel that strategically to avoid the disappointment that comes with undefined goals. We must be strategic and realistic about what is feasible within our circumstances and focus on that. Thus, in the midst of all that is happening around us, as a generation we must step up and define our mission. Then, with a clear definition and understanding of our historic mission as a generation, we must make the decision of either fulfilling or betraying that mission.
We cannot afford to abandon our role in society however overwhelmed we maybe. If we resign ourselves to desperation and hopelessness, the world will not be better for it. If we commit ourselves to the accomplishment of our historic mission, we may not see a new world in our lifetimes, but we shall certainly hand down a different, and hopefully better, world to our children.
Trevor Lwere is a junior at Notre Dame majoring in economics, with a PPE minor. He hails from Kampala, Uganda and lives off campus. He is a dee-jay in his other life and can be reached at [email protected]
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.