COP 26, the latest in the annual series of Conferences of world leaders to deal with climate change is being held in Glasgow in Scotland and hosted by the British Prime Minister Boris Johnson. It has also been graced by other important and concerned persons, like Prince Charles, while Pope Francis and others have sent messages and/or absented themselves. The Laudato Si movement HEALTHY PLANET, HEALTHY PEOPLE petition collected 100 000s of signatures and it was presented at a shared event with other petitions.
However the whole gathering has been marked decisively by the presence of thousands of youth, among them well-known activists, and also representatives from a wide range of countries and organisations. Why did they come and what is their message? Clearly they, like millions of others around the world, including the leaders present themselves, are concerned for the future of our world in the face of the ravages of the earth which have resulted from the industrial and social activities of the last 250 years. The Industrial Revolution was an enormous turning point in development in the whole world and continues to produce knowledge and resources with positive and negative effects. The very negative impact on the environment and biodiversity gradually became apparent over time, especially in the last 50 years, and to different people in different ways. So what are the youth on about?
The opening lines of the Final Document to the Youth following the 2018 YouthSynod read: “I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy and your young men shall see visions and your old men shall dream dreams. (Acts2”17 cf Joel3:1) The document was all about the youth and their place in the Church and society. The young want to be heard.CV7. Listening in the church is very important. “Listening makes possible an exchange of gits in a context of empathy. It allows young people to make their own contribution to the community, helping it to grasp new sensitivities and to consider new questions. At the same time it sets the conditions for a proclamation of the Gospel that can truly touch the heart, incisively and fruitfully.” CV8.
Was this, or is this the approach taken by youth in seeking a positive outcome for their needs? Are protests and “non-negotiable” demands a helpful approach, no matter how serious the issue? Has our society as a whole, including even the Church, become such a society where only protests render results? Are the endless wars, big and little, that are still fought across the globe a reaction due to non-listening?
“Stay angry” was the advice given by former US president Barack Obama to the youth. Is that the most helpful? There certainly is much to be angry about, be it denialism. deliberate harm and exploitation, neglect, even indifference. But the climate change negotiations are extremely complex and probably way beyond the understanding of us, ordinary citizens, even some of the old men and women who are also dreaming dreams for the future. The earth will survive in the end, undoubtedly to some extent in modified form, but we are its caretakers who have to consider all aspects, economic, social, health, long term prospects of wellbeing of all creatures, tempered by compassion for others and the common good rather than self-interest or group-interest.
Listening is a two-way street, as effective well-trained negotiators know. Each side in the debate has to learn the art and the skill of reflecting on their cause, stating their case clearly, waiting and listening to a response and reflecting again. The other party then follows the same steps. An attitude of respect towards one another is essential. It can be a very tedious process as any family can testify in the many arguments and debates that happen in homes. I once advised a relative to use the “Bite your tongue” technique, even literally. In my view for youth to come criticizing their elders with, “blah, blah, blah,” is not acceptable in ordinary discussion. Can there not be a better way to reach consensus and build healthy relationships?
Pope Francis in Fratelli Tutti on social love co-signed a statement with the Grand Imam Ahmad Al-Tayeb and stated, “In the name of human fraternity and in the name of God we declare the adoption of a culture of dialogue as the path, mutual cooperation as the code of conduct, reciprocal understanding as the method and standard.” FT 285. Could that be a way to reach consensus and build healthy relationships in this and the myriad other complex situations we have to face?
On 11th November, Armistice Day, or Remembrance Day is commemorated. We remember innocent victims as well as those who gave their lives in the wars of the 20th century and chose to serve humanity. From that time and on into the 21st century the focus has moved and is not on people alone, but on all the creatures on our earth. Most cannot speak for themselves but we, who can, owe it to them to do our best. Even our “little best”, in simple ways at home can serve us all. In the name of God and to give glory to God, the Creator of all. TR FAMILY MATTERS WEEKLY 10 November 2021
Listen to Toni Rowland on FAMILY MATTERS on RADIO VERITAS from 9-10 on Wednesday 10 November.