It’s hard to watch, listen, or read to the news right now without hearing someone mention Greta Thunberg and her tenacious climate strike movement. If you are unfamiliar, 16-year-old Greta has been a fierce and powerful voice for educating the public and world leaders about the realities of climate change and for inspiring us to fight to slow it down. She has assertively demanded action from United Nations leaders and told government officials all over the world that they aren’t doing enough to protect the health of our planet and its inhabitants. What can we all learn from this young Swedish teenager who misses class every Friday to protest outside her parliament building? Greta is just one of many young, brave activists sacrificing parts of their childhood to demand necessary action and justice. What can their passion, sense of responsibility, and activism teach us, both adults and children alike?
No matter how daunting the task, real, lasting change can begin with a single person.
Greta is a textbook example of the power of a single person – in her case, a single young person living on the spectrum (she self-identifies as having Asperger Syndrome, an Autism Spectrum Disorder on the “high-functioning” end of the spectrum). We often hear that change starts with a single thought, a single person, or a single step. Sometimes, though, this can be hard to imagine. The world can seem like a scary place sometimes, full of changes that need to be made, the action towards which seems almost suffocating. Fighting climate change, in particular, must go beyond encouraging our neighbours and friends to stop using plastic bags or to buy a hybrid car. Although issues like single-use plastics must too be addressed as even small, individual actions towards reducing our carbon footprints are meaningful, we also need governments and large corporations to adopt the same sense of responsibility and integrity that many of us have individually cultivated for years. This is what Greta is doing – holding lawmakers and therefore large companies accountable for their involvement in climate change, and calling for action that reflects a commitment to the planet and humanity rather than corporate greed.
Our differences are our strengths, not our weaknesses, and they are the key to a better world.
Contrary to society’s all-too-common belief, differently-abled individuals are not always “disabled” in the traditional sense of the word. In Greta’s case, and in many others, her different abilities are part of her power and strength. She tells us that her Asperger’s allows her to see right through the dishonest albeit persuasive language that many of the largest climate change culprits often use. She is easily able to look past all of this fluff through to the truth, and figures out what needs to be done much faster than many others. What makes her different is what makes her strong. This rings true for all of us – our strengths lie in what makes us unique.
Our passions do not necessarily need to be endorsed and supported by others to be valid and important.
In raising our own children, and being a valuable member of others’ “villages,” how can we help the young people in our lives to be brave and courageous, and to learn to stand up for what they believe in? Climate change, though a huge, impounding threat to our planet’s existence, is only one issue. We are all passionate about different things, and that’s what makes humanity as diverse and strong as it is. Our world is made up of over seven billion people with a multitude of different experiences, all of whom get out of bed for a different reason each morning. This is how we make the world a better place – we are most likely to succeed in our goals when they light our fires of motivation and action. We do ourselves and humanity as a whole a favor when we stand up for what we believe is right, moral, and important. While we all could probably take a bit of this to heart ourselves and focus more of our energy into what we believe is right and necessary, it is vital that we teach our children this and guide them in instilling this value. Our children, as cheesy as it is, really are the future, and are thus an incredibly powerful way of making a difference.
Most of us need a reminder that integrity is doing the right thing even when no one is watching.
Part of helping our children build a brighter future is teaching them the value of integrity. As tempting as it can be to take the easy way out, what we do when we’re alone helps to define us as individuals, and therefore contributes to our own self-concept and self-worth. While diving into that is beyond the scope of this article, it is important to remember that we want our children to grow up to be proud, confident, resourceful and empowered beings. And to achieve this, we must encourage them to do what is right, not what is easy (and practice what we preach, ourselves!).
This all sounds great on paper, but what we can do to take action today? We can finally go to that protest we’ve been meaning to sign up for. We can respectfully inform our own parents or in-laws that there is better, more respectful language to use to discuss low-income, underprivileged, minority, or gender diverse individuals than what they’re using, and that using this language is meaningful and important. Instead of warning our teens not to load too much onto their plate by taking AP classes, playing organized sports, having a social life, and now adding a volunteer position, we can encourage them to evaluate their priorities and follow their passions rather than their sense of “shoulds.” We can all play an immediate part in making the world a better place by both holding ourselves accountable to our own values, aligning our actions with our morals, and helping to build a future human force that does the same.