Monday evening, I walked alongside Nelson Mandela’s wife Graca Machel, businessman and philanthropist Richard Branson and former global world leaders Kofi Annan, Ban Ki-Moon, Mary Robinson, and Ricardo Lagos. We marched through the streets of London for global peace. We were continuing Mandela’s long walk to freedom. Photo credit = www.ShapeHistory.com
But whilst these former leaders have vastly more political experience than most of our grandparents – at a time where our political and cultural world has never been more generationally split – last night, walking alongside and speaking with them, I realised their message was exactly the same as most of our own Grandparents.
“Listen to me, I have something to teach you that only life experience can give, but equally, we must listen to you and give you, young people and future leaders of tomorrow, a platform to raise your voice and be heard.”
Whilst there is value in knowledge, diplomacy, politics and advocacy, the only true way we will accomplish social change is if the young can bring themselves to understand the lessons of the older generation, and likewise, the older learning from the youth.
It was Gender Equality Lawyer, Blessing Omakwu, who then took to stage Monday evening to say:
“To Walk Together, we must talk to each other. Peace requires conversation.” And I couldn’t agree more.
My mind was taken back to the Brexit referendum of 2015, where almost 50% of the UK population voted in stark contrast to the remaining 50%. Our country has never felt as split down the middle as it does now, and whilst there were some anomalies, the vast majority of people voting to remain were under 40 and those voting to leave, over 40.
If that’s not enough to raise eyebrows, take into consideration the main way most of us consume information concerning politics and societal issues – through algorithmic social media platforms that become echo chambers of our own opinion, simply because that’s the quickest way to make advertising revenue. The end result is a generationally divided country. We don’t just live in a place where the young and old simply don’t speak to one another – but also a divide in the vastly different information and media we consume on a day to day basis.
So how do we change that? How do we bring these two groups together?
The Elder’s message rings true – by their very value for existing in the first place. Monday marked 10 years since Mandela asked The Elders to form an alliance, to ensure a conversation begins between generations and platforms are built to empower young people. They wanted to inspire the leaders of tomorrow whilst sustaining the lessons from the past.
It has truly been an honour for our campaigns team at Shape History to help and support build The Elders’ Walk Together campaign this year – but in walking with them in the flesh, I’ve come away with an even stronger message that we all must do more to bring generations together. We need to ensure an equal footing to first allow discourse to flow, and then most importantly, to strategise action.
As George Santayana wrote: “Those who do not learn history are doomed to repeat it.”
It feels like we’ve all got a lot of work to do indeed.
Mike is the founder and Executive Director of social change company, Shape History.