How Do We Re-Imagine Active Citizenship Today, Such That It Captures Imagination Of The Mainstream?

Posted on February 15, 2013 in Specials

Fig 4.8

At the moment the five spaces relate to each other somewhat, as illustrated in Figure 4.8.

Career and career-related studies is at the centre, a much larger circle than all the others depicting the lion’s share it claims of young people’s time, effort, and other resources. The active citizenship space, as we said earlier, plays a marginal role among mainstream youth, being largely populated by some die-hard young people who volunteer part of their time toward issues they are passionate about. We believe the Active Citizenship space needs re-imagining to increase its attraction for mainstream youth and to gain societal sanction. We will let Aristotle guide us in this landscaping reshuffle. Consider his proclamation: “To be a good human being you have to be an active citizen but it needs not be true the other way round.” Which means you could be a good active citizen but not a good human being. It’s not difficult to think of strident activists who are undemocratic, conniving, and self absorbed with their own goals. That is where we believe, the nub of the problem lies. Our latest experiments at Pravah with re-imagining the 5th Space had begun to focus strongly on Aristotle’s words (though we have come upon them only recently). We believe the 5th Space must focus as much on the self-transformation of young people as it does on transforming society through them. We have reconstructed the 5th Space to reinforce this identity-formation stage of youth; “it’s the time of a million first impressions” is the learning we took away from the developmental theory of youth hood described in an earlier chapter.

Good human beings, and not only good active citizens, are the desired results of our experiments. The processes of learning in this 5th Space flow from Self to Society, from Me to We, rather than the other way round. Recognizing the oneness between the inner and outer worlds of young people is the key. While impacting society, young people impact themselves and if facilitated properly these experiences will lead to heightened consciousness of the Self and the ego, enhanced leadership skills (like problem solving, decision-making, team working, conflict positive, dialoguing, etc.), relationship-building capabilities, and value and knowledge-based stances on social issues. These three together–the self, relationships, and Society–we believe, stretch the current definition of Active Citizenship which focuses only on social issues. Thus, in our reconstruction of the 5th Space, Active Citizenship (defined today as volunteering in NGOs and government development sector), is only one drop in the colourful ocean of the 5th Space. We have declined to give this space a name (like Active Citizenship) because we believe the real owners/parents of any space reserve the rights for its christening.

Fig 4.9

Let’s describe this space loosely as of now, as a co created transforming experience for young people. To repeat, it includes developing the self, relationships, and engagement with society. Denizens of this 5th Space, as Aristotle said, work first and foremost at becoming better human beings. Using this wider definition of the 5th Space, let’s also consider its positioning vis-à-vis the other four spaces now. Conceptualized thus, the 5th Space is not a tiny island separated from the others by a sea of sacrifice impossible for most to cross; in effect, it is a space that strengthens the other four and could even encompass all the others. It is central in helping the young person to choose and lead a more effective career, become a more supportive and understanding family member, a trustworthy friend, and a conscious and responsible maker of leisure and lifestyle choices. Indeed it is the 5th Space that makes the other four count too. For those sceptics who might have reservations in putting the 5th Space at the centre stage of spaces occupied by youth, as we are advocating, we have the following questions (see Figure 4.9).

Our question to a corporate/government/NGO recruiter would be: “Wouldn’t your organization be best served by a young person who has developed a good EQ, a sorted out value system, great leadership abilities and a mature world view?” Our question to parents would be along similar lines: “Would you like your ward to be able to stand on his/her own feet confidently, know how to live rather than just earn a living, and to handle conflicts positively along the way?” To friends we would like to ask: “Wouldn’t you want to hang out with a person who keeps his/her commitments, is a sensitive listener, empathizes with you and doesn’t judge you too quickly?” If you agree that this is the kind of young person society and the other spaces would be best served by, then join us in rearranging the landscape such that the 5th Space occupies its rightful prominence. For the idea of the 5th Space to grab centre stage, we need to reposition it as the nurturer of all the other spaces. To accomplish this, how should the 5th Space be designed? How would it be different, yet supporting the other spaces? How can it include more than just active citizenship in its agenda? How can it make the other four count?

Read more about the 5th Space in ‘Ocean in a Drop — Inside-Out Youth Leadership‘. Get your copy now!

This article is a part of the 5th space series on Youth Ki Awaaz. 5th Space is an initiative to facilitate young people to expand beyond the typical 4 spaces of career-edu, family, friends and leisure by exploring the 5th space, a journey from self to society and back.