Almedalen – Global anxiety or global hope?

How do we reverse a growing sense that the world is falling apart? That was the key question when the SMC network organised a panel discussion on young people’s perspectives and engagement.

– The general sense of despair, especially among young people, is largely based on the feeling that one’s actions make no difference. Engagement just for the sake of engagement is demotivating in the long run, says Emma Berglund, acting volunteer for Act Church of Sweden and one of the youth representatives from the SMC network who, along with young politicians, were invited to Vårdklockan where the event took place.

The feeling she expresses is widespread, as shown by the YWCA-YMCA of Sweden report that served as the basis for the panel discussion and was presented by Hanne Karlsson.

– The YWCA-YMCA of Sweden survey indicates widespread despondency among young people and a feeling that decision-makers do not listen. But several young people we have talked to also point out the difference between listening and actually taking young people’s opinions and insights into account – several experience what can be described as youthwashing.

Interest that must be given space

At the same time, the YWCA-YMCA of Sweden’s report shows that young people’s interest in international issues is significant, and young people, in general, want to see greater international aid. According to YWCA-YMCA of Sweden, new forms are needed where decision-makers genuinely give young people influence in the work to achieve a sustainable and peaceful society.

Diyar Cicek from SSU described himself as a “troubled optimist” – the problems exist, but they can be solved. Diyar echoed YWCA-YMCA of Sweden’s image and argued that young people must have access to places where decisions are made. Johannes Thernström from MUF agreed with YWCA-YMCA of Sweden that young people are too often seen as a homogeneous group and urged all young people to channel their interest into practical engagement, preferably in politics.

But even if many may be interested in getting involved, for example, in party politics, there may be a lack of trust in politicians or a fear of being subjected to threats or hatred. There is a worrying trend of the democratic space shrinking, something highlighted by Julia Sjöström from Equmenia. Both she and Emma Berglund saw civil society and churches as very important alternatives for capturing young people’s engagement. Both the sense of community and the ability to address important existential questions about faith and meaning can provide strength, engagement, and hope.

New vision

However, several also warned against leaving the responsibility for solutions to the young.

– We need an adult generation that still talks about hope and conveys it to their children. And then, of course, actually takes action. It’s unfair to shift the focus and responsibility onto young people to solve all the problems adults have created, says Emma Berglund, acting volunteer for Act Church of Sweden.

Johannes Widlund, environmental and climate advisor at PMU, argued that we must have the courage to envision a different societal structure, which should operate on a different logic. Here, young people can provide important perspectives, but current decision-makers must also dare to think differently.

– What does a good, sustainable society really look like? I think it’s important that we consider meaning, community, and existential health. What do we measure to assess if we are moving towards that? (Hint, not GDP.) Gently tweaking the current system looks increasingly utopian and unreasonable as we burn through the remaining carbon budget.

Building hope

Archbishop Martin Modéus highlighted in his concluding remarks the need for intergenerational work and to collectively create an infrastructure of hope with community, words, prayer, and action as four important building blocks. Something that Johannes Widlund also emphasized,

– For me, it’s about three things: faith, community, and joy. I believe that God still has this world in His hands and that He is involved in the work for a renewed creation gives me hope. Community with others who are struggling gives hope, says Johannes Widlund.

The event was a collaboration between SMC, YWCA-YMCA of Sweden, ERIKS Development Partner, PMU, Equmenia, Act Church of Sweden, and Studieförbundet Bilda.

Watch the panel discussion


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