Mind Your Language

First appeared in Business Bhutan on June 6th 2015  for my weekly column: wordywise. 

Our youth are falling through the cracks. They are lazy and spoilt for choice. Our youth are killing themselves without a thought. They are wasting their lives. Our youth are lost.

I have an uneasy feeling that our youth are internalising this language of ours. If you’ve noticed, this isn’t how our youth describe themselves- this is not their “lingo”. This is our jargon: We, as authoritative adults, define the identity of a Bhutanese youth as such. We’ve been doing this for a long time. Too long a time.

Some youth have internalised our definitive idea of their roles in life, and in Bhutanese society. Other youth have rejected our language, and see themselves as rebels (with a cause) – marginal elements in the politico-socio-economic construct that is Bhutan. We have not helped our youth as productively as we think we have done and are doing. We have been creating a generation of intellectual dependents in a world that values independence and even individuality. Our education system does not encourage questioning, and it too often celebrates conformity. People who are change-makers are not conformists. People who make history are not those who toe the line.

Many a youth who cannot communicate with us, the “thinking” adults, have resorted to an existence that helps them deal with their marginalisation in the best way they know how. Comfort in mind-altering substances. Unlike us, these substances are quiet friends. Our young need us to listen. We are a noisy bunch with our policies, plans, and advice. We probably sound likes sirens most of the time.

But we include our youth in everything! True, they are included; mostly by way of tokenism and/ or creations of separate spaces that well-meaning adults are invited to. These adults are almost always condescending, unfortunately. No? As an adult, have you been to any youth forum or event and said, “This boy or girl is so intelligent/ knowledgeable/skilled for someone so young?”

Can we talk about our youth being empowered? Intelligent? Confident? Active agents of change? Can we do that without juxtaposing them against our ideas of what they should be? Can we for once forget that they are just that many years old? Can we stop looking at them as passive elements at the receiving end of our ideologies? Can we allow them to define themselves through their own vocabulary?

I saw a bit of that definition happening last Saturday at the Thimphu Clock Tower. So many Bhutanese boys and girls were expressing themselves confidently through streetdance. I thought, how productive! They could easily have been drinking, smoking, or fighting in some nondescript area of Thimphu, but they chose to dance. And be visible. At the end, the Emcee shouted: “This is hip-hop, but we are not criminals.” The first part is their language; the latter half was formulated in reaction to our language. We criminalise.

Our youth are not just our future. They are our present. Without the present, there is no future.

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