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It is young trees that make up the forest

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A gallant policy decision has been made to create a values-led society, a society united in patriotism, hard work and integrity.

President Mutharika’s wish is for Malawians to build on ‘our uMunthu’ and regain lost moral fibre. We can re-create the society acknowledging not just its complexity but the likelihood of both opposing and removed alternative views.

As Friedrich Nietzsche says “in individuals insanity is rare while in groups, parties and nations it is the rule. There are people out there who instead of solving a problem tangle it up and make it harder to solve for anyone who wants to deal with it”.

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In translating this policy, I suggest we prioritise young people. To start with turning despondent youth into positive-thinking citizens, requires a strategy that makes them feel both trusted and protected from harm. It not only demands positive attitudes towards young members of society it also requires furthering their hopes and aspirations.

Herbert Hoover, an American inter-war period US president, once remarked “old men declare war, but it is youth who must fight and die”. Similarly, George McGovern, a US Senator, said “I am fed up to the ears with old men dreaming up wars for young people to die in.”

These men were revolted by the unwarranted death of numerous young people in wars they never caused the same way that poor policies, behaviours and societal prejudices dwarf the futures of countless young people.

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As parents or leaders “we desire to bequeath two things to our children, the first is roots; the other is wings”, says a Sudanese proverb. It is the young trees of the growing bush that make up the forest and the trees deserve the best husbandry.

German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche observes that the surest way to corrupt youth is to instruct them to hold in higher esteem those who think alike than those who think differently. But society must free youth to exercise free thought, never subjecting them to manipulation.

Society should support young people to acquire values of self-protection and self-regulation. They should be made to realise that “every old man was once a young man but not every young man will become an old man” — therefore they should avoid self-harming behaviours.

Yes, youths will face challenges and it is the duty of society to strengthen its young, building hope not creating dis-empowering anxieties. It is the role of society to prepare its youth to tackle tough situations, to grow the skills and resilience to change life’s circumstances for the better singularly and as a nation.

Young people must be supported to enjoy their youth, to be truly free and yet to exercise loyalty to nation and government. Youth is a dream; a form of chemical madness, suggests Scott Fitzgerald requiring guidance without control, supervision without indoctrination.

Given the transient nature of youth, it has to be cherished to the full. Youth may offer the promise of happiness but real life offers the realities of grief, says Nicholas Sparks; therefore society must teach caution and patience for everything has its own time. Are we not admonished that ‘he who runs for good fortune runs away from peace?’

Young people need not just good counsel but good company too, because the wise say “an intelligent enemy is better than a stupid friend”. Early life is like a seed that grows into a future. Youth should hence be encouraged to learn to listen from parents and elders for when a one closes one’s ears and eyes to facts one will learn through accidents.

The ultimate is for all young people to learn — continuously and lifelong-especially about values of their own society and its organisation. George Washington once proposed that the primary objective of leaders and society should be the education of the youth in the science of government. In respect of transmission of values, nothing is more important than exemplary behaviour by all leaders.

On this same theme of education and learning, Maya Angelou a renowned American writer and poet said “if I were a young person today trying to gain a sense of myself in the world, I would do that again by reading, just as I did when I was young”.

Absolutely! It is the duty of society to assist young people to discover their self-worth through learning not from formal institutions alone, but routinely from the collective wisdom of adults.

Young people are bundles of boundless potentials which if left to idle only create devils of their own lives. To me “the most daring thing is for government and the people to create communities in which the terrible disease of loneliness can be cured”.

Society must engage its young generations in activities that train body, mind and soul. It should invest in activities that inculcate not social rebellion clothed as social development, but in values of oneness; purposeful hard work; sharing and collaboration and sufferance in order to move Malawi forward in its quest for national character.

In particular, development of a positive work ethic is vital for Malawi, so are honesty, commitment to quality, love of nation and willingness to make personal sacrifice. This is the essence of uMunthu and the spiritual source of the energy not only to achieve but to take pride in achievement.

You see, what you help a child to love can be more important than what you help them to learn. Value instruction in youth is like engraving in stone; everything sticks with them. African wisdom says “what you learn is what you die with; so society must be extremely careful what and how it teaches its young generations.”

If we want a hard-working and patriotic society with men and women of unquestioned integrity, we will do well to invest in young people today.

If we seek to mould a nation with good character, let’s build upon the expectations of youth, in those who we seek prepare to take over.

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