If you had told me at the start of this century that the word "youth" would become a key addition to our everyday lives in about 20 years, I would not understand you. And not because I was an eight-year-old child back then, but mostly for how different things were at the time. Politics meant larger-than-life characters talking loudly at people. The ones who cared for the environment wore white lab coats and goggles. And people seldom dressed casual for business and made money over the phone.
The world has revolved around the sun about 20 times since then; in the same time, young people have transformed generations.
What does it mean to be a "youth" anyway? Where does it begin and end? Is it tangible or abstract?
The United Nations defines, "Youth is best understood as a period of transition from the dependence of childhood to adulthood's independence. That's why, as a category, youth is more fluid than other fixed age-groups." How fascinating. Therefore, essentially and for statistical purposes, a youth is a person between—but not limited to—the ages of 15 and 24 years.
At 15, I was running around in my school yard playing football with a paper ball; at 24, I was throwing countless paper balls into the trashcan because my engineering math assignment wouldn't add up. Years later I am still, for all intents and purposes, a youth.
Beyond dictionary definitions, the word "youth" carries unique meanings for each individual. While some might accept it as a rite of passage in life, another group may consider it exclusively a lifestyle. For some, like my sexagenarian father for example, it is a state of mind when tapping fingers on the table humming to a romantic song. "Abhi toh main jawaan hoon" (I am still young), he sings.
One cannot define youth simply with emotions and activities. It is fluid, like molten iron, brimming with endless potential and possibilities to give shape to an idea or create a personality.
At the very beginning, youth is a friend. When most of our days are spent in classrooms and tuitions, it shows up as a pleasant respite. One can find it in the giggle of a group of girls and in the brotherhood of a band of boys. It is the magic in the air when a young person feels invincible. When dreams are as free as a bird and time is just a pair of moving sticks on a clock.
As days go by, youth becomes a partner. When we gain new experiences and a better perspective of life, we call upon it to fuel us. In taking responsibilities, in working hard to turn dreams into realities, and also in those dark moments when we feel like giving up, youth remains a constant, reminding us that there is more to come. What looks like a stepping stone is actually a transition period—between who we were and who we want to be.
And in the later stages, youth is a guardian. When we find solid ground beneath our feet and trust ourselves to take on the world, we seek the lessons we learned from youth. Perhaps we have become adults now, with our own families to take care of and careers to build, and with the power to dictate time. However, we always looks back on the path that brought us to the present, with gratitude.
Personally, as I look at the world today, I try to distinguish the youth by the following: thinkers and doers. I have always been a thinker in that categorisation; I was an introvert before I knew what it meant. I took delight in observing and appreciating the doers. I still do. There is no competition between the two. Look around, you'll even find individuals who are a mix of both. Maybe they are what we call "young leaders" or "changemakers".
And the youth does. More so than ever before. Full of brilliant ideas, armed with true grit and blessed with the ability to touch people's lives, the youth of today are no less than heroes. They show us, every day and around the world, that you don't need a seat at the table to do good for the needy, that saving the environment starts with you and your personal practices, and that it's more important to be a leader than a boss.
The world thinks so, too. The previous generations have paved the way (thank you!) for us to be here and the future looks up to us. Therefore, it is safe to say we are at a crossroads and whether we like it or not, this is our time. We don't need to assemble like the Avengers but we need to stand beside one another; we need to stand up for what's right and stand up against what's wrong, even if we're standing alone.
So today, take a stand. Remember, regardless of age, there is a "you" in youth—and youth is power.
Kazi Akib Bin Asad is the editor in-charge of SHOUT, The Daily Star. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org