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JEF Paris European Seminar 2012

Youth participation in Europe: Less is more

, by Bertram Lang, Alice Uwineza, Sebastian Seeger

Have you ever found yourself doing something just for your CV? These days society expects us to study in a more straightforward way, without looking left or right, in order to graduate as soon as possible. No wonder: The new education ideal is to make students ready for the labour market at a maximum age of 23 years. On the other hand, we are supposed to prove as many “soft skills” and social competences as possible. This general feeling of “CV pressure” yields the impression that the more things you do at the same time, the better you are.

The same holds from a political point of view. A very common complaint is that citizens are not active enough to support democracy and should participate more in society. This is certainly true in the sense that far too many people do not care about politics at all and therefore at least some participation of a much larger number of citizens would be desirable.

However, the omnipresent expectation of “social engagement” (just take a look at requirements for jobs, internships and scholarships) seems to rely more on the quantity than on the quality of such societal participation. Whether this formula of “the more, the better” is really to the best of the respective civil society organisations and movements, or whether in the end it can even benefit yourself, is extremely questionable.

As a matter of fact, there is no linear relationship between the amount of social activities you are engaged in and their substantial effects. Given the increasingly limited time that even students have at their disposal for voluntary engagement, people who seem to be engaged in many different organisations whilst they continue with their studies might eventually do so in a rather superficial way. Everyone who has ever been sincerely engaged in an association or taken on any honorary office has experienced how much time and effort it takes to get familiar with the structure and the specifics of the association. Only after obtaining deeper insights into an association can we meaningfully participate in its further development. Only after profoundly understanding the points at issue can we convince other people of the ideals we are committed to. This is why in the end it is much more sensible to focus on one association or one issue that is of particular importance to you, and to stay committed to it for a longer period. This is how you will be able to progressively develop, promote and realise your own ideas, while shaping and supporting the organisation you are engaged in. One of the worst things that can happen, especially to youth organisations, is that too many people formally take on posts of responsibility but then prove unable or unwilling to invest as much time as would be necessary to fulfil their tasks and keep the whole organisation active and running.

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