Submitted by Alan Cundall, Toronto, Ontario in 2016 (Reposted June 2019)
Inclusive Leaders come from many different backgrounds and bring what they learn at Inclusive Leadership back to many different communities. Alan Cundall has grown up in the Baha’i Faith Community and has experienced unity and inclusivity through his participation and facilitation within Junior Youth Spiritual Empowerment Groups. Alan has also been participating in and facilitating within the Inclusive Leadership community for 7 years now (since 2009). In this post, Alan shares his experiences exploring, sharing and celebrating the parallels between Inclusive Leadership and Junior Youth Spiritual Empowerment Groups.
My involvement in Inclusive Leadership and the Junior Youth Program has been an uplifting and life-changing experience for me and many youth. When we look carefully at our society’s trends, we see that intense individualism, competition, materialism and prejudice continue to dominate social interaction. From childhood, the individual learns to adopt a “mask”, to guard one’s emotions, trust only certain people and compete for advancement. Sadly, this kind of social education has only led to insecurity and instability. So many feel at a loss for deeper relationships, for more authentic interactions and a sense of being part of something meaningful. This is why initiatives like Inclusive Leadership and the Junior Youth Empowerment program attract participants to a different way.
Inclusive Leadership is set within the context of the international Earth Charter. The context of Junior Youth Empowerment is the international Bahai’ Community. An Inclusive Leadership experience takes place over several days where everyone lives in one place whereas Junior Youth groups meet regularly over weeks in a neighborhood or community setting. Both programs are based on the principle of oneness and inclusivity. Each participant is valued as a unique and inherently noble being; their character and inner gifts acknowledged and celebrated. With each program a community is developed where individuals are accepted to be themselves, and to associate with others in friendship as fellow adventurers in life.
Encouragement plays an essential role. In both programs there are leaders – older youth or adults – who are trained and develop experience in facilitating activities. These leaders are mentors and guides who assist new participants in their challenges and in their discoveries. Nonetheless, they are equal participants in the process; listening and learning from all the participants as much as directing, and creating opportunity for each one to share, to serve others and take on responsibilities.
The Junior Youth Empowerment Program is based around a series of curricula; certain qualities, skills, abilities, habits and attitudes are fostered as stories and concepts are explored and discussed in the open and caring environment of a group of friends. The capacity to investigate reality for one’s self, to think critically and share understanding is foundational. The arts are a channel and medium for this expression and service activities enable youth to build confidence and take increasingly more complex social action in their community.
Inclusive Leadership is intensely experiential and takes place in a camp setting. Often Inclusive Leadership Adventure camps begin with group games and movement activities that emphasize inclusivity and unity. These games lead into activities that require more discussion and that bring out dramatic or artistic skills. On a final day, or session, brainstorming and consultation for social action is held, with individuals envisioning what they will do and enlisting one another’s support.
Lasting social change, it has been shown time and again, comes from re-orienting the mind, heart, and will – a radical shift occurs in the underlying assumptions, rules and ways of being that a group of people, and ultimately a society, live by. Margaret Mead, a noted anthropologist once said, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”
Both Inclusive Leadership and Junior Youth Groups create opportunities for youth to bring about a transformation from individualism, competition, materialism and prejudice to unity. Indeed, my experiences in both Inclusive Leadership and Junior Youth has shown me over and over again that “no power can exist except through unity” (Baha’u’llah, quoted in The Prosperity of Humankind, p. 8)”. The time of being a youth is a time of being the most ready and receptive to such change. The more united and empowered youth are in their efforts, the greater the effect will be.