How Can Youth Serve Society: An Ethical Approach

Dr. AK Merchant
Dec 1, 2016 · 8 min read

Presented at the Youth Workshop by Vishwa Yuvak Kendra (International Youth Center, New Delhi)

In the swiftly changing fortunes of humanity due to manifold causes a lot will depend on how the younger generations everywhere on the globe react and respond to these appalling and unimaginable challenges. To this end, they must commit ourselves not as members of particular groups, parties, advocates of ideologies, votaries of diverse religious systems, but as humans. For, present-day society, be it rural or urban, lives in fear and insecurity and a host of crises that threatens the very survival of the human race. My work in the field of interfaith harmony and world peace as a national representative of the Bahá’í Faith tells me that only a new dynamic vision based on a planetary ethos wherein the principles of unity in diversity, equity and justice and the pursuit of enduring world peace, can provide the basis for far-reaching transformation.

Bahá’u’lláh’s vision of a spiritually and materially prosperous world particularly places the manifold responsibilities of social transformation upon the youth in every country who in the prime of their lives must “steel themselves for a life of service” to humanity. The younger generation of today must counter the negative social forces by relying upon the unfailing assistance Divine Providence.

With clarity of vision and courage in their hearts and a conviction of faith born out of encounter with the Divine, the youth must pledge to use their spiritual resources for the advancement of present-day society, whichever country they live in. This also meets the expectations expressed by UNESCO in its call to all the countries for implementing a universal educational curricula entitled: Learning: The Treasure Within. Of the four pillars identified for the learning to take place one of them is “Learning to live together”.

The following suggestions are being offered through which youth can shape their vision and mission that is imbued with a sincere desire of service to humanity and establishing a world civilization:-

1. By developing an understanding and conviction of the principle of the organic oneness of humanity, and by expressing this belief through action. Science and religion have taught that we are one human race, living on one planet, and each of us is an integral part of the body of humanity. If any part of this body is weak, ill, diseased, the whole will be affected: each of us, as an indivisible part, will then suffer or be destroyed.

2. By working for a systematic eradication of all forms of prejudice and discrimination, whether based on race, caste, religion, sex, nationality, or class. Failure to be aware of our prejudices, and to work consistently to rid ourselves of these divisive forces, will maim or destroy us, individually and collectively. Further, the chance of achieving unity through cooperation, and of bringing about peace, the result of this unity, will be impossible.

3. By commitment to education in its totality–spiritual, moral, intellectual, emotional and physical — education of the whole person. This can be done in two ways:

A. First through the development of the highest moral and spiritual values taught in the Sacred Scriptures of all religions namely qualities of love, compassion, justice, truthfulness, honesty, trustworthiness, and courtesy. These qualities, essential for the moulding of character, must be internalized, and be expressed in daily action, whether in the context of family, community, country, or the world at large. This education must necessarily stem from the acceptance of, and commitment to, the organic oneness of the human race, and the belief that all human beings are fundamentally spiritual in nature, and have the responsibility to express their love of the Divine through service to their fellow beings.

B. Second, through education and training in schools, to develop fully the individual’s talents, abilities, potentials in such a way that young people are equipped to practice a trade or profession, and can, through gainful employment contribute to the development of their nation and of the world. Special emphasis must also be given, as agree upon by all the religious communities, to the often neglected education of girl-children. Such an education must be provided for by the family and the community. Since work done in the spirit of service to humanity is considered worship, youth, men and women alike, must commit themselves to obtain education, so that they may make a unique contribution to life on this planet.

4. Thus it is clear that the education and training of youth must be based on the essential agreement of science and religion since, as facets of one truth, they provide both the values and the knowledge that will transform this planet into a place of peace and harmony, through respect for the rich in diversity of humanity and the nourishing of those cultural differences that bring us together, not tear us apart.

5. Through acceptance of the common humanity we share — that we are all a divine creation, connected by indissoluble ties with the Creator of the universe — ultimately this is what matters in the finally analysis.

From the above comments and suggestions it is hoped that the enthusiasm that youth worldwide is demonstrating despite the turmoil and chaos that surrounds us will blaze fresh trails of solidarity and camaraderie in their race to save the planet.

India today has a population of over 120 crores that is growing at 2.2 per cent per annum. The population below the age of 35 years in India is about 70% of the total population. Within this youth population, the age group of 10–19 years is approximately 225 million, the largest ever cohort of young people to make a transition to adulthood. Moreover, 70% of the youth population in India is rural. According to current estimates, India is and will remain for some time one of the youngest countries in the world. In 2020, it is estimated that the average Indian will be only 29 years old, compared with an average age of 37 years in China and the US, and 45 years in west Europe and Japan. It is this population of young people constitutes for India a potential demographic dividend, and/or a challenge of mega proportions, if their concerns are not properly addressed or their energies harnessed fruitfully.

There is no universal agreement on the age categorization of young people. Some national youth policies have strict lower and upper age limits, while others have rather blurred boundaries between children and youth. The concept of when a person is “young” and consequently a “youth policy” are indeed subjective. Indian national youth policy 1988 and 2001 covered all the youth in the age group of 13–35 years. However, all young people within this age-group are unlikely to be homogeneous, sharing common concerns and needs, and they will have numerous different roles and responsibilities. Furthermore, the youth belonging to the age group 13 to 19 years, which is a major part of the adolescent age group, is regarded as a separate constituency as compared to the group of people between 20–35 years. The contemporary changing needs and issues of the young people has forced the Indian government to review the national youth policy (NYP) and bring in the dimensions of massive skills building programme to cover all youth in the country within the age-bracket of 13 to 30 years and further divides this broad age group into three sub-groups:

· The first sub-group of 13–18 years should cover adolescents whose needs and areas of concern are substantially different from youth in the other age groups.

· The second group of 19–25 years includes those youth who are in the process of completing their education and beginning a career.

· The third group of 26–30 years comprises of young women and men most of whom have completed their education, including professional, and are, more or less, settled in their job and in their personal life.

Youth work in India has a long history. Amidst growing incidences of student unrest in the country in the late 1960s, as in many other parts of the world, the Government of India began to think of formulating an integrated youth service programme. The Ministry of Human Resource Development was created in 1985 to deal with five areas concerned with youth, namely, art, culture, education, youth affairs and sports, and women’s welfare. The Government of India, valuing the importance and the resourcefulness of the youth population, formulated the National Youth Policy (NYP) in 1988. The central theme of the policy was the promotion of personality and functional capability of the youth. The goal set was all-round development of productive, self-confident youth committed to national development and achievement of excellence as well as due share in life and progress.

And keeping in mind the changing nature of society in the technological era, the Government intends to galvanize the youth to rise up to the new challenges and aimed at motivating them to be active and committed participants in the exciting task of national development’. The national level policies and the latest initiative of skill building of the vast mass of youth the Government hopes to achieve the following:

Promotion of national values, social harmony and national unity, empowering youth through employment and entrepreneurship opportunities, education — formal and non-formal, health, health-related issues and healthy lifestyle, promoting gender justice and equality, participation in community service, preparing adolescents for facing challenges of life, social justice and action against unhealthy social practices, issues related to environment, its conservation and preservation, and youth and local governance, including support to state-sponsored programmes and schemes.

Youth work in India can be divided into six different types of activities such as: (a) recreational (b) educational © Personal (d) social (e) cultural and (f) economical. The youth services and programmes are being planned, implemented and evaluated by different Ministries through various agencies and national youth related schemes.

Fulfilling the goals of service to humanity and world peace in the world is more than a possibility. These are, our interfaith initiatives have clearly articulated and inevitable for our survival and brilliant light at the end of the dark tunnel which the youth would ignore at their own peril. At the same time a challenge to their devotion to build a better world — one as glimpsed, for instance, in the following passages of the Bahá’i writings: “A world community in which all economic barriers will have been permanently demolished and the interdependence of Capital and Labour definitely recognized; in which the clamour of religious fanaticism and strife will have been forever stilled; in which the flame of racial [and caste] animosity will have been finally extinguished; in which a single code of international law — the product of the considered judgment of the world’s federated units; and finally, will have been transmuted into an abiding consciousness of world citizenship — such indeed, appears, in its broadest outline, the Order anticipated by Bahá’u’lláh, an Order that shall come to be regarded as the fairest fruit of a slowly maturing age.”

May the seeds of peace, harmony and human oneness that will sprout in the hearts of young people everywhere become the groundswell for a new India. To act like the beasts of the jungle is unworthy of human beings. For, the virtues that befit human dignity are trustworthiness, forbearance, mercy, compassion and loving-kindness towards all peoples. “The well-being of humankind, its peace and security,” Bahá’u’lláh wrote, “are unattainable unless and until its unity is firmly established,” and furthermore, “the earth is but one country, and humankind its citizens.”

Dr. AK Merchant

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Author & researcher on culture, religion & environment.