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OFF CENTRE: Yuh got to be insane!


Sherwyn Walters

OFF CENTRE: Yuh got to be insane!

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MANY YOUNG PEOPLE are insane.
Not this kind of insane: a “Junior Minister of Tourism” was chosen last month by way of a speech competition.
Nor this kind: the Barbados National Youth Parliament was relaunched – even as “previous incarnations [had] met with failure”, according to one news source.
Lemme be honest: these things do have value. But we don’t need more of the kind of politicians we already generally have. They have driven many right-thinking people to cynicism.
Whatever percentage of electors vote, nowhere in the world are you hearing that they have fixed Parliament to the satisfaction of the populace.
Involving the youth in these things is nowhere near optimum channelling of their panting insanity.
The insanity I am on about is the belief that nothing is impossible, a belief that brings with it zeal, courage, idealism, optimism.
As you age, that insanity dissipates and the wolves of impossibility, diminished energy, jadedness, despair and cynicism are more and more at your door. The young, full of energy, are raring to go. And these times are just ripe for their insanity.
But when you school them in obeah (if you’ve been watching this space, you know I mean a belief in talk as accomplishment) or force-fit them into a new-wine-in-old-wineskins paradigm, they become the wrong kind of mad.
I was insane too, but the context wasn’t right. The socio-economic, political, cultural, technological, legal, financial context was not very facilitative. If you did not enter politics, you could have very no large-scale social impact.
At 18, I sent the newspaper a letter that was published, and a few days later in a Bridgetown encounter the editor asked me: “Nobody en kill you yet?”
At 19, vexed by something that I construed as advantage-tekking of poor people, I descended on the offending business place and, after politely seeking an audience with management, gave a ranting piece
of my mind to the white boss man. After he grew tired of my caustic carrying-on – I suppose – he trumped me with a fierce “get to hell out of my place before I call the police”. My options had run out. My insanity knew not where else to productively turn then.
So I wrote more letters to the editor – some of which could not sensibly be allowed to see the light of a publishing day – and I raised fists, marched, carried placards, sicked out, annoyed superiors with contrarian views and actions, exasperatingly walked off beaten paths. And mostly futilely tried to talk and write change into people.
Today’s young people have better means.
Unfortunately, while we enthusiastically incline them towards mere talking, singing, playing sports and passing exams, we don’t with similar unrelenting passion motivate, promote, facilitate and glorify their involvement in producing specific fixes, solutions, new answers, community impact, discoveries, aids (lowercase) for this and that.
Those are the best uses for the young people’s insanity. And pivotal involvements for the sake of our tomorrows.
But the older ones – probably comfortable, if not jaded, tired, despairing, not today-savvy – are trying to create the young in their own non-transformative image. Or setting great store by engagements that fit a now out-of-step paradigm.
Their best ideas apparently have to do with getting the young to run their mouths – and this in a world that is primed for transformative action.
British Prime Minister David Cameron, not long before he won the government, said: “If we combine the right political philosophy, the right political thinking
with the incredible information revolution . . . there is an incredible opportunity to remake policy, to remake government, remake public services and achieve a big increase in our well-being.”
Check his TED talk The Next Age Of Government. And also listen to Jamais Cascio’s On Tools For A Better World.
Websites like Alavateli and Mzalendo and Ushahidi are on governments’ cases with focused and impactful ardour.
Not only in the realm of governance, though. The tools are there or can relatively easily be created these days to impact a whole range of other things. Websites and apps and open sourcing for targeted, specific good. Text-only crisis hotlines. Apps to crowd source answers. Smart mobs. Even personal safety apps.
Young people can really make a difference these days.
However, instead of mostly nurturing them in problem-solving and innovation, Barbados has been luring them into an apprenticeship in pontification. And then we complain that we have this thing called implementation deficit disorder.
But look at Microsoft’s Bill Gates. As a young person he created, innovated, solved problems – he did things (granted that he had the conducive context; but we now do too) – and now, while continuing to do, he is talking, talking, talking, persuading audiences whose respect he has gained from doing things.
In Estonia they are teaching all first graders to code. In Barbados we are saying come join a Youth Parliament.
So here is my pitch to the young of Barbados: don’t let them trap you in any short-changing modes, when game-changing is in many cases now right at your fingertips.
You have the know-how, you have the connections, you have the technology.
In some cases you already know how to build websites and how to code.
Set up websites to impact something important. Build apps.
(Of course, there are loads of possibilities beyond the digital world too.)
Your insanity has met up with the right time. 
Do real good. Outdo me.
Sherwyn Walters is a writer who became a teacher, a song analyst, a broadcaster and an editor.

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