As I sit here, I look out the window and gaze at the grey sky above me, wondering if we fully grasp the magnitude of our decisions. Are we conscious enough to admit that the world we are living in isn’t equally fair for everyone inhabiting every corner of the Earth?
And do we care?
Working as a psychologist in a public hospital in a developing country, I find myself inside a small space with the son of a dangerous gangster who has nothing to do with his father’s choices of life. People tend to categorize others according to their family’s reputation, and wrongfully we are blinded by prejudice. In Guatemala, being the son of a gangster automatically makes you a delinquent, someone unreliable that has the worst intentions in his mind. But… once given the chance to know that person, you begin to see the person for whom it is and not for who his father is.
The son of this gangster once told me that his father did not join the gang because he wanted to hurt others or become rich without working for it. No. His neglected mother had left him to fend for himself since he turned three, whilst his father beat him constantly, always leaving scars all over his body. Solitude had become his best friend, until he found his safe haven in a gang. They welcomed him warmly, giving him the feeling of belonging he had been searching for. He had a home in this gang that protected him at all costs, something he had been lacking since he was born.
As he told me this, I began to feel guilty because I have a family that looks after me, and he didn’t. He went out and took the matters into his own hands. He did not have someone to protect him, to make sure he did not screw it up. Sure, maybe his decisions weren’t smart, but he was just doing what his parents failed him to do.
Because it happens in every corner of the world we shouldn’t be shocked, right? Well, it is shockingly devastating to see that youth is labelled “at risk”, “dangerous”, “delinquent”, “apathetic”, amongst others. If we are what society thinks we are–which we clearly are not–where is the opportunity of growth? Where are the efforts of protecting us against crimes? Where is the help we should be receiving as future leaders of our nation?
How can youth ever be the change the world needs when many of them are imprisoned behind iron bars along with their intelligence, innovation and engagement? Who are we protecting by imprisoning youth? Not only in real-life prisons, but the imaginary bars we confine them within. All those labels, the lack of opportunities, the war, the pushing away… what are we doing with our youth, but throwing it away?
When are we going to stop treating youth as second-class citizens? And when are we, youth, going to stop society from labelling us? We need to make a stand and protect ourselves and the future generations so that they can grow with better opportunities and a better way of life. Ask yourself, who am I protecting myself from?
Foolish choices? Negligence? Rejection? Ignorance? Inequality? Violence?
What are you going to protect others from? Are you going to watch as this issue continues wasting away the opportunity of change or are you going to do something about it?