It’s hard to instil optimism in young people these days, but it is vital to give them some sense of hope.
“Was it as bad in your day, mum?” asked daughter three the other day. I was trying to lift her spirits so I said that indeed there were a lot of bad things happening in my day [as well as some good ones]: we had the threat of nuclear war, whole parts of the UK were seeing their industries decimated and AIDS was killing many people around the world.
Few of us, though, were alert to the dangers of climate change. While nuclear war can be averted, climate change disaster looks a whole lot more complicated and, due to the number of vested interests and misinformation, more likely. Indeed it’s already happening.
Moreover, nuclear war is still a distinct possibility; we face the possibility of numerous pandemics; and the infrastructure that supports the economy, which will take decades to rebuild, is collapsing. It’s never a good idea to compare different eras, but it does seem that the current generation has a mountain to climb, and they are all too aware of it all because they are bombarded with information – and misinformation – every day.
Daughter three is contemplating what to do with her life. Should she go to university? It sounds like it could be good – and necessary since so many jobs are targeted at graduates, but she is very anxious about debt. Daughter two is a live today kind of person so she hasn’t really thought further down the road and, if she has, she thinks it’s highly unlikely she will ever earn over the threshold for repaying even the ridiculous interest rates on the student loan.
In any event, the loan barely covers the cost of accommodation so she will have to get a job on the side. On the news they were talking about some banks extending people’s mortgage repayments until their 80s. This generation, if they can actually afford a mortgage, will die in debt. Retirement is a distant fantasy.
Of course, we also live at a time of rapid, overwhelming change. So this generation thinks anything could happen by the time they get older, if they are indeed contemplating being able to live long lives.
While the world may be on fire by then, it may also be run by robots. Artificial Intelligence [AI], of course, doesn’t have to be a bad thing. That is within human power to decide, but it will certainly mean that the future looks fairly different from the present, just as today looks very different from the 1980s when I grew up – for instance, there were no mobile phones and now everyone is glued to them at all times, even if they don’t pick up any messages from their parents.
Perhaps the robots will be kind and wipe out human debt. AI will also be able to cure all sorts of human diseases so maybe we will live longer and suffer fewer chronic illnesses. Maybe physical and mental wellbeing will be built into our working days and we will not end up like the latest anti-working from home scare story – a Daily Mail depiction of a work from home woman looking hunched, overweight and depressed [presumably as opposed to a work from the office woman looking hunched, overweight and knackered from the stress of commuting and getting home on time to pick up the kids].
All these things are to be battled for, even though it often feels futile in the face of the overwhelming pressures of the present. That requires leadership, vision and an absolute commitment to working together for the common good, rather than individual gain.