In this piece, we hear the reflections of both the ‘youngers’ and the ‘olders’ who gathered to bear witness to what was alive in the hearts of the youth at the New Story Summit. The role of the olders was to simply listen. The talking points: ‘What is your sense of the future?’ ‘Do you feel you and your generation really have one?’ ‘What are your hopes and fears?’ The New Story Summit: Inspiring Pathways for our Planetary Future was held at the Findhorn Foundation and Community 27 September – 3 October 2014.
From Younger Caroline Cohen
“My experience of the Youth-Elders Council changed the way I showed up for the rest of the Summit. One agreement of Way of Council is that the content is confidential, so I will do my best to convey just the impact. For those who are unfamiliar with The Way of Council, it is a context for deep listening and personal sharing. This council had 11 young people in an inner circle and many more elders surrounding us as witnesses. Their place was to deeply listen, resisting the urge to form responses, or to make our sharing fit into their pre-existing concepts. At the end, just a few would have a chance to speak in response. The inner circle of youth passed a talking piece, sharing, without formulating our words, but rather letting what must be said come through us. Each younger brought unique and wide ranging answers to the prompt of “what future do you see?”
“After having watched older people speak to the room for days, this council was an abrupt change. This night, my peers and I held the place of teaching though sharing. I was moved by the sincere listening of the witnesses, and felt I had been given permission to activate my voice and that it was important to these elders. Near the end of the Council I became uncharacteristically angry, triggered by a comment from a witness. This anger was like a challenge to use the voice which I now understood to be valuable. I took the talking piece again. With the attention of my peers, elders and onlookers, I made a vehement and broad criticism of ‘older men’.
“After the council, a few men thanked me, and I found it to undermine what I had said. I ended up in a lovely conversation with one man who eventually pulled out his most recent book. That moment I was slapped in the face with the realization that the ‘older men’ I had just yelled at were some of the most accomplished thinkers and leaders of our time. It was a real “oh shit, what have I done?” moment.
“The value here, was that I had the chance to express a truth which would have been suppressed by cultural norms in any other environment. Suppressed to the point where I would not have even recognized the thoughts in myself because I have adopted survival habits to make me like-able.
“For the rest of the Summit I dropped the fear of offending important people (as I was already deep in that hole), and I conducted myself with the recognition and understanding that I could have something valuable to bring to a conversation, even to those so much further along in life than me.
“My final thought is about respect. I recognize and honor the work and words of elders. I believe that they should hold more time and attention than my own. I want to learn. In the past I have acted only as a sponge, searching for knowledge to soak in and while making people feel important simultaneously. The youth-elders council helped me recognize and activate my own, unique perspective.”
From Younger Nana Woo
“First of all, I appreciate the elders who suggested that a space be created to ‘just listen to what is living in young people’s hearts’. I had the impression that the elders were happy to have the presence of youth at the summit, but I wondered how many actually wanted to hear the voices of young people. Surrounded by the circle of elders, it was, therefore, a great opportunity to share my voice and also to hear the voices of my friends. I felt that I was connected and was able to communicate more with elders through their pure, open-hearted listening.”
From Younger Donnie Maclurcan
“In a magical example of what can happen when we truly listen, eleven younger people held Council while 100 older people held the space in Findhorn’s Universal Hall. What repeatedly surfaced were the internal ‘contradictions’ felt by many: respect and rage; hope and despair; clarity and confusion. Some of the younger women, for example, said they strongly felt the desire to birth life, yet simultaneously felt uneasy about bringing a child into the world as it is today. Others spoke their anger at the legacy left by older generations, whilst also sharing their compassion for the contexts and limitations faced by earlier generations. Overall, just having the safe space to express these dilemmas and the associated emotions felt like an important healing for the entire group, on its journey of engagement with paradox.”
From ‘Older’ Roger Doudna
“The New Story Summit team originally intended to do ‘Way of Council’ sessions on issues between men and women, ‘indigenous’ and Western cultures, youth and elders. All of these issues arose in one way or another during the week, though not necessarily as we had intended. The one council that did happen pretty much as we had hoped was the one with those over and under 35. Gigi Coyle and Yvan Rytz led us through this ‘ritual’ wherein we ‘olders’, all sitting in a tight circle, had the privilege of listening to 11 self-selected and remarkable ‘youngers’ (of the 50+ who were here).
“All spoke of their gratitude for the opportunity to speak and to be present and heard at the New Story Summit. They agreed that the internet had given them an unusual chance to be interconnected like no generation before them. Hence, they were more aware than most of the challenges facing their world, and how previous generations, including our own, had brought the world to a point of profound peril, around which they gave voice to their anger, fear and occasional despair. But all were resolved to do whatever they could to put things on a saner and more stable path.
“These youth were ‘witnessed’ by a surrounding circle of perhaps 25 and another 50 or so around them. The intermediate circle then spoke with profound appreciation for these youth, reminded them that many of us had felt similar emotions in our youth, but applauded their candour and connected with their hopes and fears, and hence with them. We all left the Universal Hall that evening with the sense that at least this bunch would do what they could to rise to the occasion.”
From ‘Older’ Gigi Coyle
“The council time called for by Roger Doudna, for some of the ‘youngers’ to be heard by ‘olders’ of the NSS, seemed timely and an important contribution to the Summit. Though after an extremely full day of ceremony, we all stepped up I feel. I was thankful as always to have a younger partner, Yvan Ritz, to make a simple offering. I recall two people in the large hall expressing impatience with the time taken at the start and I can only say that, in my experience, setting the field, some intentions, confidentiality, and finding an appropriate form, etc., are key to allowing for a quality of sharing and listening. Though there were many other things happening that evening, some 60 gave eleven self-selected young participants full attention, and the call and opportunity for younger voices to be heard continued to ripple during the week. Such a strong council moment, I suspect, served those in the inner circle, as well as those ‘older’s in the outer circle, as well as those who witnessed, whether they spoke or not.
“The time was reminiscent of why the youth go out on the mountain or into the desert in ancient and modern cultures to seek guidance, to confirm their voices, their gifts, their way, and why a council of elders eagerly gathers to welcome them back and hear their stories. Without such stories, without such inter-generational listening and respect, what kind of future can we dream or expect?
“I am grateful for this evening on many levels and only hope that such opportunities will be continued in communities around the world, in circles, in the spiral form and fishbowl councils wherein ‘olders’ also share their concerns, fears, and dreams, and are held by young witnesses. This way, this kind of time created together can contribute to healing for any and all as well as prove to be revealing, deepening the understanding and wisdom in the global community, as well as the village. The evening was a taste of what is possible and perhaps essential for a whole story …”