I recently had the privilege of being invited to attend the Aspen Action Forum, an annual event offered every July in Aspen, Colorado. Hosted by the Aspen Institute, the Forum is a unique gathering place that, in the words of Peter Reiling, Executive Vice President of Leadership and Seminar Programs at the Institute, is “designed to spur a highly talented, global group of leaders to do something about the world’s greatest challenges.”
As someone whose work revolves around facilitating, inspiring and catalyzing people to take action around the most critical issues facing us today, I have spent many hours thinking about this topic. One of my favorite ways to think about it actually comes from a workshop that I did with SERES’ own group of youth ambassadors. In a discussion about empowerment and what it means to empower someone or be empowered yourself Cesar Recinos, our El Salvadorian facilitator, shared with the group his ideas that “the more empowered you are, the smaller the gap between thought and action.” I love the concept that this idea offers us, and while it may be that the size of that gap can change depending on the scope of the action you are taking, it is the movement towards action that I believe is tied up with a sense of empowerment.
So if being empowered is one of the factors that help us generate movement towards action, what are the factors that hinder movement? Over the many years that I have done this work, this line of inquiry keeps leading me back to just one thing: fear.
Fear of the unknown.
Fear of looking stupid (a difficult one for us “experts”).
Fear of failing (a very common one with the North American students that we work with).
Fear of losing.
Even fear of success!
And day after day at the Action Forum, as we were provoked and invited by the seminar readings to step up and take action, I heard that fear holding people back.
As I sat at the seminar tables with these highly successful leaders from around the globe and heard many wrestle with the idea of moving from thought to action, I actually found myself wondering whether our SERES youth – unlikely leaders, the majority from underprivileged and marginalized communities – were actually in some ways more empowered than these highly successful leaders? Our SERES youth, with their small but powerful action plans, doing what they can to address the critical issues facing their communities, and making their homes healthier, safer and more environmentally sound places to live.
Or could it be that our youth have less to fear? I certainly doubt it. With events such as El Salvador’s recent surge in violence, in which the country registered more than six hundred murders in May (the most since the end of the civil war) and sparked headlines around the world such as “El Salvador to Become Deadliest Peace-Time Country in the World” from The International Business Times or this article on The Executioners of El Salvador from the New Yorker, there is plenty for anyone living in these countries to fear. Perhaps it is that for SERES youth and so many others like them, who live on the frontlines of the very crises that our world leaders are trying to solve, the consequences and risks, the fear of inaction, are so much greater.
Every day, across El Salvador and Guatemala, SERES facilitators and ambassadors are doing the work to empower young people and inspire them to overcome their fears and step boldly and proudly into taking action to make their communities and this world a better place. There is plenty of work to be done, and we need everyone to play a part and so from SERES we invite you to let go of your fears and, in the words of the German writer and statesman Johann Wolfgang von Goethe:
“Whatever you can do, or dream you can…begin it. Boldness has genius, power and magic in it.”
PS And if that isn’t enough, bestselling author, entrepreneur and agent of change Seth Godin has recently released a new bestseller entitled “What To Do When It’s Your Turn (and it’s always your turn)” that is an urgent call to step up, lean in, take the plunge and do the work we’re called to do. If you do nothing else, we recommend reading it. You can get a copy online here.