In Spring 2019 Andrea de la Cruz and Ioana Viscrianu presented the study “(Re)Search: the spiritual striving of youth – shaping our reality” by the Youth Section at the Goetheanum, a study about the awareness and attitudes of young people today. The research question “What would the world look like in the year 2030 if what lives within me were to become reality and what would I do to make this happen?” forms the framework of the study on which the research team, which includes Constanza Kaliks, has been working together with other mentors since 2017.
In addition to the free narration of their own biography, the 40 interview participants aged 18 to 35 from 23 different nations answered three universal questions: 1. If you could give something to the world, what would it be? This question reveals longings, desires and at the same time aims at identifying one’s own abilities and qualities (the gift). 2. Now in the year 2030, how has your contribution, your gift, changed the world (the contribution to change)? 3. What do you want to do from today on so that this change can happen (the act)? In order for the young people to be able to express themselves freely and authentically, the questions posed to them were about their present personal life, in the context of their biographies and also about their to their own contributions to the world in ten years.
The following interview is translated from the publication in German, accessible here.
Q: In your youth study, you put great emphasis on finding the ‘right’ question. Why was that important to you?
Ioana Viscrianu: In fact, this is the actual question: how do we create a space in which young people feel encouraged to reflect on their own lives and being young nowadays? What question could we pose that would open a gate to this? We asked ourselves this question thoroughly. Our world is so diverse and complex that it can be helpful to become aware of what has contributed to my being who I am today. This includes the culture, the family, the landscape in which one grew up. One of the tasks of the Youth Section is, of course, research. In this sense, to develop a question that forms a gateway to the self-reflection of being young. Being young means being on the lookout for the question. A search that can also be compared to approaching something that wants to be articulated. Pictures and signposts can help – signposts that don’t give a specific direction, but encourage you to become aware of your own direction.
It becomes challenging or interesting when young people are the ones who do research and at the same time are the ones being researched. Thus, the process described becomes an immanent reality for the researchers as well.
Andrea de la Cruz: We’ve experienced that it’s best to ask the questions in the form of pictures, because this is the way we least influence the course of the conversation. This means being absolutely awake to the direction that the interviewees are taking in their own discourse, in order to accompany and support them along the way. In our first report we described it in this way: our task is to be a companion to others in the exploration of themselves. They reflect, seek and find, and we as questioners try to listen in such a way that we ask those questions that they could have asked themselves, but may not fully penetrate their consciousness or were difficult to articulate for them, without the dialogue with another.
Ioana: That is why the peer-to-peer research method is important to us, the youth-led research, in which both interview partners have equal rights. There is a resonance between me and the young person who is in front of me or next to me, because what is a question in this space concerns the both of us. In this way a conversation is possible beyond surveys and defined roles. That’s what this research is all about. What happened often was that the interviewees spoke for an hour without interruption and without us having to intervene.
“And that is something really beautiful to experience, that I’m always , or that somebody is always in the mind of somebody”. From the youth study.
Q: Today, the generational boundaries are dissolving. However, you have set the age limit for your investigation at 35.
Ioana: This number serves as orientation. From the mid-30s, the life questions become more specific, because the biography goes in a distinct direction, as one can see in the life tasks that people begin to take on. Our questions are directed to the age where one is grown up and at the same time everything is open. Of course, this does not mean that one stops asking these kinds of questions about meaning in the course of one’s life. However, we focus on special questions that arise in youth, because this is our task as the Youth Section.
Andrea: Another concern of ours is to give young people a voice, to the individual young person, not to young people in general. And yet, in all the different stories we have experienced this essential quality of ‘becoming’, of being in transformation. We could say that this is part of the nature of this age, because it appeared in every conversation, regardless of gender, age and place of origin. With this study we wanted to open more and more doors into what is experienced by these generations. That is why it is understandable at this stage of the study that we have collected many more questions than answers.
Ioana: The study was always about both making the young voices audible, perceiving what the young people have to tell, and giving them space to reflect on it through the form in which we pose the questions.
Q: In which moments did you have the feeling of coming into a real encounter?
Andrea: You feel it clearly when something new emerges in the interview. This is what it means to have an encounter. It is difficult to put into words, because it is more a happening than a certain statement. When we then later go through the transcriptions of the interviews, then this moment of the encounter can be felt again. Yes, our interviewee seems to be present again for us. That is an impressive part of the project, that our thoughts about the quality of conversations themselves is again such a search movement.
Ioana: The intention here is not that readers get answers like ‘aha, that’s youth’. The project is an invitation for everyone to get involved in the questions, to step into the depths and to experience the consciousness that shows itself there. That is our hope.
Johannes: … this is already being fulfilled in some places. The questions we ask here are beginning to change reality. If you think about how the world would be in 2030 through your own contribution, then you take yourself more seriously, you don’t experience limitations, but your own possibilities. This is how reality changes.
Q: You describe that it is important to know one’s own origins, one’s cultural identity, and at the same time you emphasise that the interviewees experience life as a constant process of change and transformation. Is that a contradiction?
Andrea: Many young people were very interested in gaining an understanding of where they came from. They enjoyed telling stories about their neighbours when they were children, but without wanting to return to that life. It is rather the other way around. The better I know my origins, the easier it is for me to break away from them and understand myself as a world citizen, and to find my home in the exchange of cultures. Many young people have described this to us. Nobody told us: “I am Spanish, but I feel like I am from the whole world”. No, it said: “I am Spanish and it fulfils me to know and understand these roots of my culture and thus I feel connected with the whole world”. It is not a denial, but knowledge of one’s own roots, what seems to give us a global consciousness. It is a journey from the part to the whole. This was evident in almost all young people.
Q: A further point in the discussions was: no tolerance if ethical principles are violated.
Andrea: Yes, that was the topic in some conversations and I remember one conversation in particular. One young person described that she would find it unbearable if she had to lie in some way at work. She decided to resign eventually, although of course that meant financial insecurity. Similarly, a woman in a very different place: she told me that there was nothing to do in her job, she was not seen, it seemed pointless. Although she had dreamed of this work in politics, she left the job. Both had the inner strength to be consistent and say no, because otherwise they would cross a certain line of values within themselves.
Johannes: It reminds me of the big demonstrations at the Dutch universities. There was a group of students who just protested, and then there was a second group and they show an example of what we are talking about now: they left the university instead of protesting with 200 other professors and students to found a new college, one that has now grown enormously.
Q: Another key point of your study concerns career goals.
Andrea: We have observed that the career aspirations and goals were diverse, the young people participating sought diversity and not specialisation. For them, a goal can be realised in various ways, as one of the young people who, at the age of 13, was already dreaming of understanding human nature. Later in his life, he comes to do this as an author, a teacher or a social workers. In this case, then, we talk about young people being concerned with their vocation and not so much with their occupation.
Q: In the last Shell youth study, religious life is rated low, while friendship and partnership are at the top of the list. Do your conversations confirm this?
Andrea: When we discussed religion, it wasn’t about understanding someone divine, or the gods, but about understanding myself in relation to something higher. That plays a big role. Spiritual practice takes place in order to find yourself and your own questions, and to answer them.
Ioana: Religion as something given, which contains no own activity, no inner activity, contradicts the need to seek and perhaps even to create a place from which the young person can understand himself and the world more and more deeply.
Q: Anthroposophy offers both: the given contents and the tools.
Ioana: I see Anthroposophy as an invitation to do one’ s own research, to live with certain contents and to see what one can make of them.
Q: The most discussed and deepened field in the interviews concerns ‘relationships’.
Andrea: There is a longing for relationship and connection and at the same time, it is easy for young people to connect. It is home. I am, because of, through and with the others. I wonder whether earlier generations of young people felt the same way. It is not about the relationship itself, but about the ‘how’ of the relationship.
“I am only inasmuch as I am with another. I am not with the other, I don’t know who I am”. From the youth study.
Q: Trust, honesty and openness – you mention the three keywords in your study.
Andrea: Today I would add ‘vulnerability’. There is a longing to meet in a tender way, and that presupposes knowing about each other’s vulnerability.
Johannes: This includes commitment, which one seeks but does not always reach. Wishes and reality are not always one.
Andrea: Our conversations were about longings and ideals. But there is often something in the way between young people’s ideas and their actions. What is happening here? This concerns our second phase of analysis. Spiritual striving is there, but how does it become will? Here we suspect a blind spot.
Q: You mention that some of the young people describe waiting for something indefinite. Is that related to that?
Andrea: You could connect that with a blind spot. One feels that there must be a reason, a reason for one to become involved, to take the step. It’s about the courage to commit with no guarantees.
Ioana: We talked about young people turning away quietly when they don’t find what they expect. This is about perseverance: Okay, I don’t find something now, but I’m on my way to realising it. It takes a lot of trust and perseverance.
Q: Did you come to your question about what you can do yourself to realize your gift to the world?
Ioana: An empowerment process began in the interview when it was possible to let the conversation lead into this question. Some of the young people interviewed said afterwards, “now I know what I want to do”.
Images from Shira Nov, November 2019