Real questions and faux answers. Football and the cinema. Is there a better way?

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Sarah Turine, Deputy Mayor for Youth in Molenbeek said “I raised the alarm in 2010. I said there was a time-bomb in the district. We have said for a long time, the problem is social order, so all we needed to do was keep (the youth) occupied – make them play football, send them to the cinema but we didn’t help them find a place in society”1.

Sarah has had a tough job, and she has been sitting on a time bomb. Molenbeek in Belgium is thought by some to be something of a nursery for Jihadists. A place where idle adolescents can be recruited for suicidal missions against infidels. Sarah had the task of engaging youth who were at risk of being recruited to Jihadist agendas. This is a huge challenge and I’m sure I would not do any better than what she has done.

Adolescence is a bracket of development during which identity formation is most likely to occur. When we are in our adolescence, we say “No” a lot. “No” to what authorities want. “No” to mum and dad. “No” to teachers. We want to separate from these people, we want to own our choices. To have freedom. Through the “stress and storm” of this phase, we hope to find ourselves a purpose and identity. To do something good.

These are the questions on our Hearts and minds during the stress and storm of adolescence: Why am I here? What is worth living for? Who am I? These are real questions, and they deserve to be taken seriously.

The question for us in the West is, do we honestly think that football and going to the cinema will provide satisfying answers for the serious questions we have about ourselves?

When I am hungry and am served up nothing, I find this disconcerting. It is my appetite that needs to be resolved.

Youth are hungry. They have, and we have, an appetite for identity. We all want to know who we are and why we are here. To be given entertainment options is to be given ‘nothing’ or a faux answer and leaves many youth and many of us feeling as though we aren’t being taken seriously.

If we give the youth nothing, they will fail to find their place in the world. To give our youth ‘nothing’ makes them vulnerable to being mislead by the mischievous. The best way to protect them from being taken off course, is for them to stay on course. It is to give them ‘something’ instead of nothing. It is up to us adults to take seriously their questions, and give them real answers so that they can know who they are and where they are going.

There is nothing inherently bad about ‘nothing’. Most boys, as I do, enjoy football and the cinema. It is the feasting on nothing and the attitude that we have in the West that “all we need to do”  is do the pleasurable that is the problem. By serving up entertainment alone, we impose a quiet nihilism. Distraction will not satisfy an appetite for meaning. Implied nihilism plus entertainment and its associated pleasure only creates aimlessness and weakness, and that is the problem in Molenbeek, as it is in every city around the western world.

The words of Lewis are insightful.

“And Nothing is very strong: strong enough to steal away a man’s best years not in sweet sins but in a dreary flickering of the mind over it knows not what and knows not why, in the gratification of curiosities so feeble that the man is only half aware of them, in drumming of fingers and kicking of heels, in whistling tunes that he does not like, or in the long, dim labyrinth of reveries that have not even lust or ambition to give them a relish, but which, once chance association has started them, the creature is too weak and fuddled to shake off.”2.

1.Transcript of SBS Dateline Program @ Dateline Program @ Quote is at 8 minutes 50seconds.

2. Lewis, C.S. (1942). Screwtape Letters. Letter XII.

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