On Saturday 12th December 2020, people from all over the world gathered online to listen to the latest observations of the Youth Section at the Goetheanum’s (Re)Search project. The event, which was originally planned to be hybrid with a mixture of participants on site (at the Goetheanum) and others attending via Zoom, had to take place solely online due to last minute changes in regulations in the Solothurn area in Switzerland. However, despite the technological format, we were able to joyfully share “live” with more than 50 people a review of the research process from 2017 – 2020; the development of the methodologies and discourses of youth and how young people participating in our activities had responded to this unique year.

Additionally, young co-researchers and participants shared their own reflections about key themes that appeared throughout the year during research processes, as well as their personal experiences living with questions in times of COVID-19. We also counted with an initial presentation of the (Re)Search branch in Latin America by co-researchers Guadalupe Olaizola, Mayumi Matsumiya and Rocio Ferrera, who are currently engaged in the final interviews of the process.

“The task of the Goetheanum – School of Spiritual Science, she described, is “an attempt to make a contribution to the knowledge of that which is in becoming””.

Constanza Kaliks opened the colloquium, situating viewers in the context of the Goetheanum – School of Spiritual Science, the institution that gives a home to the Youth Section and its projects. The task of the Goetheanum – School of Spiritual Science, she described, is “an attempt to make a contribution to the knowledge of that which is in becoming”. This task is understood as a responsibility, held by the eleven sections of the school in the context of our present times, to “search for a knowledge that embraces life – not a knowledge that is already given, but a kind of knowledge that would be able to perceive, understand and interact with that which is in movement, in becoming.”

And within this context, the Youth Section is a very special member faculty of this school indeed, for it deals directly with the human being at a biographical point which is defined by potential, by what might become in the future. The young person is on the way to something and is aware of its own potential, so the Section for the Spiritual Striving of Youth as it is also known, is a space dedicated to this search for shaping one’s own destiny in relation to that of others.

“research in the Youth Section necessitates the absolute presence of the researcher as participant in the becoming reality and the development and attainment of knowledge”.

Just like every other section of the Goetheanum – School of Spiritual Science, the Youth Section is based on two pillars: learning and research, and the research that belongs in this research is “to connect through questions to a reality which is in becoming in a way that includes the young person’s interest, instead including oneself in the process of knowledge”. Thus, research in the Youth Section necessitates the absolute presence of the researcher as participant in the becoming reality and the development and attainment of knowledge.

To achieve such research, it was essential that young people would shape the entire research process from its inception. The questions, methodologies, analyses and publications related to (Re)Search: The Spiritual Striving of Youth – Shaping our Reality have been, for three years now, been developed in collaboration with hundreds of young people from around the world.

Ioana Viscrianu, member of the research team described the project as an attempt to give young people the possibility to encounter with self and others within a frame that is given by the Youth Section so that the participant can recognise his own questions. Additionally, it was an attempt to connect more clearly with the spirit of the time, to further our understanding of the times we live in and its signature; and to do so, by unveiling aspects of this moment in time we have all come to live in through the expressions of young people. And thus, we asked ourselves: what can we learn of the spirit of the time and what wants to come from the future through the voices of young people in becoming?

To begin dealing with such question, we generated methodologies based on young people living with and reflecting on personal questions, and encounter between peers to share such questions. At the core of this methodology is to work with an open-frame question that allows participants to ponder it through time, evolving together with the one who poses it. And since 2017 hundreds of young people have engaged in various ways with it:

“what would the world look like in 2030 if what lives within me becomes a reality and what will I do to make it happen”.

In in-depth interviews, focus groups, diaries, individual reflections, at workshops and events and most recently due to COVID-19 as online activities, the question has guided young people in different processes across time. By observing how participants engaged in conversation within the context of this question, after three years of research processes, the team has been able to identify three fundamental aspects that shape young people’s spiritual strivings today:

  • LONGING TO RELATE MEANINGFULLY
  • LIVING IN BECOMING
  • DEVELOPING CONTINUOUS SELF-KNOWLEDGE

These three aspects have remained constant through the three years of the study and can be clearly perceived throughout the voices of the young people participating in (Re)Search. Regardless of cultural background, age, precedence or gender, these fundamental aspects are at the core of what it means to be young today.

There are other aspects that have not remained constant for young people. As the world events surrounding their youth unfold, young people react and respond to these events always in connection to their longings. The years 2017-18 are described by the researchers as atmospheric years of “waiting for the storm to come”, a time where young people were in a mood of preparation, of staying active and alert to what might come to meet them. Whereas the aspects of relating to others, being in becoming and developing self-knowledge were shared by most participants as key, the themes that concerned or interested them on an everyday basis and were more individualized in 2017/18 than in later years, when events such as the climate and COVID-19 crises arose at global scale and captured participants’ attention across the board.

In our first publication, we described how young people shape their identities through experiences of encounter with self and others in connection to certain areas of experience that are vital to them. These areas of experience or, or themes, were: one’s origins, education, profession and vocational life, relationships to others and religion and spirituality.

In the later years of research, the areas of experience or themes where young people are unfolding and attempting to shape their identity become less individualized and more “common concern”. Across discourses, we began in 2019 to see how young people’s interests were gravitating towards challenges such as the disconnection between knowing and doing – knowing too much, but not acting accordingly to the knowledge we have ­– the climate crisis, the challenge or difficulties of dealing with the other, including aspects of social polarisation or a sense of “living in bubbles”, the concern of being misinformed by the media and living in in societies with materialistic world-views that do not allow to develop their key longings. The researchers thus described 2019 as a year of disorientation, where young people’s sense or urgency radically increased, bringing with it a feeling that “something is asked of me” within a context of crisis. It is the year when “the storm has broken” and yet, one seems to still have a choice as to whether one engages with the critical aspects mentioned above – for they have not yet “touched” everyone’s life to an extent that they are completely unavoidable.

This is what radically changed in 2020 with the COVID-19 pandemic: crisis is no longer a choice, it is constitutive for every individual, it touches us all, whether we want it or not. The phenomenon is like the image of a dry sponge under the pouring rain that has no other fate but to absorbe the liquid into its every cell, or an underground ant nest being inundated by water. Every individual life is touched by the pandemic in various ways; in every corner of one’s life, even in its most intimate place, the challenge makes itself present, pouring itself within. In this new scenario, our questions and concerned cannot be experienced as abstract any longer, they are concrete and existential. Every day. Individuals are being asked constantly to respond – or left to react. And, more intensely than ever, our spiritual striving turns to face the vital question of our youth:

“How do we relate?”

This question makes itself present for the young person today in various forms, but is, without a doubt always present. The question is immense and in constant change, always accompanying: how do I relate to myself, a time of uncertainly, how do I relate to the other, who is in becoming, changing, living too in uncertainly? How do I relate to humanly existential concepts such as fear, illness, death, life, hope? And this question is connected to certain themes that are of a special contemporary prominence:

  • Privilege
  • Polarisation
  • Technology
  • Nature & climate
  • Inner & outer life / individual & social life
  • Trust

Each theme reveals the struggles, the challenges, but most importantly, the striving to make something meaningful out of the events that come to meet us in our youth. It is outstanding to witness a multitude of young persons embracing reality in order to reshape it, as if out of the inundation produced by the water in that ant hole, they wanted to create a secret garden. What might await us, after all, is unknown, but it is clear to us that there is no lack of hope, for the young person today – whatever the outcome – does not seem to renounce to the longing to relate more meaningfully to each other, to knowledge of oneself and to the reality of the world in becoming.

At the end, Constanza Kaliks shared thoughts which might lead to the realization of that what we are longing for – spaces for shaping reality, for relating meaningfully with ourselves, other human beings and the world. The basis for it is mutuality, which is needed in order to achieve the recognition of the other human being. Being recognized becomes then a present one wants to give further to others. This mutuality is directly connected to the realm of thinking. Polarisation, one of the themes that we dealt with during the day, in an example, one of the central motifs of living in times of COVID-19. A solution for overcoming the polarization we are experiencing today could be to develop a thinking which embraces the excluded third, an element of value which is not included in binary thinking. On this ground, mutuality becomes concrete. It becomes the soil on which we are able to rely, to experience trust in the humanity of another human being, in order to shape reality.

Andrea de la Cruz & Ioana Viscrianu