Monday 14 October 2019

Liz Kearney: 'What our children could teach us if only we would ever listen'


Lyra McKee, left, and Greta Thunberg, right.
Lyra McKee, left, and Greta Thunberg, right.
Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg. Photo: Stefan Rousseau/PA Wire
Liz Kearney

Liz Kearney

Mocking the generation after you as you settle into comfortable middle age never goes out of fashion, and today's young people frequently make that task so very easy, with their safe spaces, their Instagram obsessions and their tendency towards snowflakiness. And then, sometimes, something happens to remind us that we make fun of young people at our peril.

This week, 16-year-old Greta Thunberg stood up and told us that we've been lying to her generation. That by failing to act to prevent climate change, we've stolen their future from them, and all so that "a small number of people could make unimaginable amounts of money".

Her directness stopped many of us in our tracks. After all, my generation is the one that so enthusiastically embraced the 'Sex and the City'-era consumer culture of fast cars, fast fashion and foreign travel, and in doing so compounded the climate catastrophe now unfolding before our eyes. Do we really have a whole lot to be smug about?

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Greta's still a teenager, for goodness' sake. She can't even vote.

And yet it's precisely that youthful clarity of thought that is so devastating to listen to. She understands a simple truth - that collectively, we must change our ways or else face dire consequences. It is a pure, unvarnished prediction with not even a light sprinkling of sugar to coat it.

That same clarity of thought was evident in the work of Lyra McKee. Lyra may have been some 13 years older than Greta but she shared the same youthful drive to make the world a better place.

Her short life was devoted to the pursuit of equality, truth and tolerance. She campaigned on behalf of others and stood up, peacefully and eloquently, for what she believed in.

She was, said her sister Nichola at her heartbreaking funeral in Belfast yesterday, like a dog with a bone when she found a cause she believed in.

We have seen these same qualities of dogged determination in other exceptional young people who've found themselves fighting for justice when the adults in the room have let them down.

Think of Malala standing up to the oppressive horrors of the Taliban, or the survivors of the Parkland school shooting facing down the might of the National Rifle Association.

One of the biggest lessons these young people teach us is that age does not always bring wisdom. Frequently, growing older simply means becoming more cynical, more hardened, less hopeful.

Middle age is a messy mix of compromise and half-truths and hand-to-mouth living, where most of the time we are simply too preoccupied with getting through the day to give much thought to the big issues.

Besides, we figure, only the truly naïve don't understand these problems are too complex to unravel. So we don't even try, and we come to see any trace of innocence as a fatal flaw in our characters, to be outgrown as quickly as possible.

In doing so, we move further and further away from the ideals Greta and Lyra embody so luminously. We turn our backs on the notion the world would be a better place if good people did the right thing more frequently, because it just seems too basic.

It has been a week full of horrors, from the inexcusable violence that snuffed out Lyra's life in the Creggan last Thursday night, to the all-consuming terror of the Sri Lankan bombings that killed more than 350 innocent people on Easter Sunday.

Set against such profound darkness, the message of hope embodied by Lyra and Greta shines even more brightly. It is a fitting moment to pause and reflect, and ask ourselves what our children could teach us if only we would ever listen.

Irish Independent

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