Young People and RC

This is the first of a series of articles I am writing about how to move Goal 2 forward in RC. Goal 2 of the RC Communities1 is “That the Re-evaluation Counseling Community put new and increased efforts into making Re-evaluation Counseling and the Re-evaluation Counseling Communities accessible to young people.”

In this first article, I will focus on the basics of young people’s oppression and some first steps for allies to young people. In the next, I will focus on what is currently happening and what has worked well in RC young people’s work. The third article will focus on the specific areas in which I’d like us to make progress.

THE TRUTH ABOUT YOUNG PEOPLE

Let’s start with the truth about young people. We are born completely good and hugely intelligent. Because we haven’t had much time to accumulate distress, we have flexible thinking. We are smart and able to think well about many things, particularly connection, closeness, creativity, and playfulness. We have a good picture of the world and how it should be because we haven’t had too much confusion and discouragement piled on us. Sometimes people confuse intelligence with the accumulation of knowledge and think that, because we haven’t experienced as much as adults, we are less intelligent. This is not true. It is a confusion that comes from young people’s oppression. Young people can be powerful leaders.

YOUNG PEOPLE'S OPPRESSION

Young people’s clear thinking about connection and how the world should be is dangerous to the oppressive society. So young people are oppressed. They are made to feel insignificant and powerless so that they don’t challenge the oppressive society.

Everyone either is or has been a young person. Thus everyone has experienced young people’s oppression. And all adults have had to take on2 the oppressor role. I think most adults need many sessions about the heartbreak of having to take on the oppressor role after having been a young person.

Young people’s oppression is virtually unacknowledged and unchallenged in our societies. It is sometimes even seen as good practice or necessary. It is important to talk about young people’s oppression and liberation, in RC and in the world. If we don’t, it will continue to go unchallenged and we young people will continue to feel like there is something wrong with us rather than seeing the big oppression that is aimed at us.

The main messages of young people’s oppression are that we young people are not fully human, that we are stupid and don’t know enough to think well, and that we are small and insignificant. The oppression comes at us in school and from the media, our parents, and other adults around us. It comes in when we’re very young. Most of our earliest hurts (discouragement, powerlessness, isolation, and so on) are a direct result of young people’s oppression. This oppression also sets us up3 to collude with other oppressions, either as the agent or the target.

Younger young people are often treated like they are objects or animals instead of intelligent humans. They are belittled, humiliated, disrespected, and given no power in their lives. This sets them up to be exploited and abused. As young people get older, the oppression looks slightly different. We older young people are often called lazy, difficult, and irrational. We are given slightly more power in our lives but consistently told that we make bad choices. Adults often have less attention for us. It can also be hard for us to be close with other young people, because of internalized oppression.

School is the main institution of young people’s oppression. It has also been used as a tool of colonization, racism, and genocide. Although many of the adults who work in schools are committed to young people, schools are not set up well for young people (or for anyone, including parents and teachers). All of us who attended school need many sessions about our years there.

Schools don’t operate in a way that fits how anyone would naturally learn. They are set up to give young people the message that they aren’t smart and to make them obedient to an oppressive society. They are also a place where young people are separated from each other—by age, and by racism, sexism, classism, and other oppressions.

We young people are barely ever given the opportunity to make decisions about our lives or to have a voice in the world. It is clear to us that the adults who are making decisions for us, though usually well meaning, are often not thinking clearly about us (or themselves or others). We young people need chances to practice making decisions about our lives. Just like all people, we need the chance to make mistakes and learn from them. We do need perspectives held out for us, so our distresses don’t control us. We sometimes need guidance and information from someone who has more experience with something than we do. However, adults need to be very careful not to automatically make decisions for us or assume that they know best.

Young people’s oppression gives us confusing and mixed messages about sex, drugs, and alcohol. We, and adults, have lots of distress in these areas, which can either push us toward these things or repel us from them. Adults often client at us, and can rarely listen to us, about these things. They need to have sessions about what sex, drugs, and alcohol were like for them when they were young people.

Many RCers have struggled to gain slack for young people in these areas. Having someone who can listen to us and not get scared, give advice, get fascinated, or go away is hugely beneficial in our figuring these things out. Also, we all—adults and young people—need to counsel on where it is hard for us to take stands on drugs and alcohol, so that we can relaxedly hold out a clear perspective for all people.

INTERNALIZED OPPRESSION

As young people we internalize the messages of young people’s oppression and believe them about ourselves and each other. We can’t tell4 that we’re fully intelligent, powerful, and significant in the world. We feel like there is something wrong with us. Stuff about coolness, being liked, and competition comes up. We older young people often treat younger young people in the oppressive ways that adults treated us. All of us young people are given the message that we can’t be important in each other’s lives and really support each other.

Allies can play an important role in contradicting internalized young people’s oppression. They can remind us of our goodness, likability, brilliance, and power. They can remember that any “problem” we have with each other is because of the oppression and not to do with5 us. They can also remember and remind us how important our relationships with each other are and counsel us to move toward each other. (We may need to be mad at an adult so that we can take the blame off of ourselves and other young people.) An important step for allies is to counsel on their years as a young person—on how they wanted to be liked or cool, on how they felt stupid, on where things got hard with other young people, and so on.

COUNSELING YOUNG PEOPLE

It is great to counsel us young people and provide contradiction6 and safety so that we can discharge. This contradiction and safety will come from building strong relationships with us—often by listening and playing, hanging out,7 and laughing with us. It is important that adults discharge any urgency they have about our discharging, and our leading in RC. It needs to be clear that they genuinely want us.

We young people need places where we are respected, followed, and listened to. However, adults, seeing that we are smart, can (often unconsciously) use us as counselors without our permission. With young people, particularly younger young people, counseling often needs to be one-way or uneven and the young person needs to be able to determine how things are set up. This contradicts young people’s oppression and the way that adults constantly impose their agendas and schedules on young people. Also, because young people rarely have the power or freedom to decide when they listen to adults, young people are often put in the role of counselor without their permission. Still, if you are an adult, we can be some of your best counselors.

If we decide to counsel with you, use our attention to work on real struggles you have and trust our intelligence and abilities. Be thoughtful about what it doesn’t make sense to client on with young people, especially younger young people, but don’t be so careful that we never actually see some of the places where you struggle. If you ask us whether or not we want to counsel you on a topic, we may not be able to tell you if it would be hard on us, so also use your judgment.

BEING AN ALLY

If you are an adult, being an ally to young people is one of the best things you can do for yourself! It is a fast track to your re-emergence, because it reminds you of exactly what you need to work on from when you were a young person. Tim Jackins and many other RC leaders have reminded us that it is important to work on our early hurts. These hurts have everything to do with8 young people’s oppression. Most of us felt defeated and powerless because the adults around us couldn’t think due to their oppressor material,9 which came from how they were oppressed. Discharging these early hurts, making the connection with young people’s oppression, and being allies to young people are crucial to all of our re-emergence and will make our relationships with both young people and adults much better.

Also, ending young people’s oppression is crucial to the liberation of every group. Without young people’s oppression, we would not be as vulnerable to accepting any other oppression. Being an ally to young people challenges a major foundation of the oppressive society.

MORE TIPS FOR ALLIES

Here are some more tips for allies: Have sessions on your young years! Have sessions on what your life was like when you were the age of the young person you are being an ally to. Listen and trust young people’s minds. Challenge yourself to go outside of your comfort zone and follow a young person’s thinking. Build relationships with young people and learn about their lives—what they’re passionate about, what they think about the world, what they are trying to figure out.

Another tip is to go for10 having a big, fun, world-changing, and connected life. It can be hard on young people when it looks like adults have given up on having a big life for themselves, when it seems like they are only able to have fun around young people or that they do it “for” the young people. It’s important to play and think big with other adults as well as young people. Have sessions on early discouragement so that you can have the big and fun life you want. Fight for the things you want to change in the world and lead others to do the same. Get close to and play with other adults. Contrary to what you were told as a young person, you get to have a great life. It will be good for us and for you!

Mari Piggott
International Liberation Reference Person for Young People
Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada


1 A goal adopted by the 2001 World Conference of the Re-evaluation Counseling Communities and reaffirmed by subsequent World Conferences
2 “Take on” means assume.
3 “Sets us up” means predisposes us.
4 “Tell” means notice.
5 “To do with” means about.
6 Contradiction to our distresses
7 “Hanging out” means spending relaxed, unstructured time.
8 “Have everything to do with” means are very much about.
9 “Material” means distress.

10 “Go for” means pursue.


Last modified: 2019-05-02 14:41:35+00