Greek Youth Realize Their Power: Most Important Stakeholders Finally Enagage

06/07/2011 09:44 am ET | Updated Aug 06, 2011
  • Vanessa Andris CEO, The Prosfos Institute, Exceptional Leaders for a Complex World

After a year of watching their present and future swirl ever more furiously down the drain, and wondering what they can possibly do, Greek youth have finally found the courage to exercise their power. The most important and largest block of stakeholders in Greece, seem to have decided that fear is a luxury they can no longer afford.

For twelve days, thousands of youth in major cities across Greece have come out daily to protest the way that Greek officials are handling the current crisis.

This indicates a quantum leap in the development of Greek youth as a social force and models exactly the kind of accelerated adaptation that is necessary in all sectors, particularly the convoluted Greek political world which dangerously dominates all other aspects of society.

What is even more profound than the example these young people are setting is that their mere presence in great, unrelenting numbers forces politicians and rich tax evaders to face their victims. This non-violent but hugely powerful moral confrontation may be the pivotal reckoning that finally inspires short-sighted politicians to come out of denial and dancing, park their individual interests, and work as team to save Greece.

Contrary to what some critiques say, it doesn't matter that this movement lacks slogans, clear demands and polished proposals. It doesn't matter that it's bordering on anarchy as long as it doesn't cross over into it and become violent.

In fact, what may make this movement successful where all others have failed could be precisely its lack of politically defined and refined messaging. The fact that "novices" are out there rather than professional protesters, that these youth are not linked to a particular party or political philosophy, not organized by labor unions or others, means that what is speaking now is the disorganized and the disenfranchised -- the silent majority who also happen to be this crisis's greatest victims and those who will pay the price for the longest.

For months now, Greek youth have been watching their peers in Egypt and Tunisia lead the Arab Spring and asking themselves some tough questions: Why don't we know how to use social media to make things happen? Do we really want to do what other young people have done -- create a revolution that will inevitably mean more chaos for who knows how long? How long do we wait before we are entitled to rise up -- until we deteriorate into a country like theirs where human rights violations are commonplace? Do we want to destroy this government? Imperfect as it is, without some stable government in place, will it be possible to get any assistance, much less leverage it into what we think is best for us? And if we forgo outside assistance, how can we create sustainable growth without some stable governing system in place?

Intelligent as it has been to recognize that such a degree of disintegration is not what is best for Greece now, the options presented by the Arab Spring example further locked Greek youth into a state of bewildered exasperation where there seemed to be nothing to do but repeat the proverbial Greek refrain, "Ti na kanoume?" -- "What can we do?" This is a refrain that speaks of a despair so deep that any mother, father, minister, union leader, millionaire/billionaire -- any person with any social conscience hearing youth utter it -- can only decide to finally take a hard look at the consequences of their own behavior on innocent victims and make a change.

Now was it the Spaniards mocking Greek youth, suggesting they are too asleep, apathetic, and cowardly to speak up... or Greek youth finally reaching a boiling point as they watch their leadership grandstanding while externals feel forced to try to positively influence Greece's internal workings before committing additional funds... or maybe seeing Greece being mocked even more mercilessly than DSK on Saturday Night Live that finally got them into the streets? This we may never know, and that may not be the most important feature of this phenomenon to understand.

What is most important to appreciate is that Greek youth have found the will to set aside everything that was logically keeping them from speaking-up. They have set aside their uncertainty about a successful solution, their uncertainty about how to use social media to get people together, their lack of polish, and the lack consensus among them. They have put aside the face-saving ensured by just staying home in favor of facing the unknown and making their faces known.

Youth, unlike any other sector of society, have finally supplanted the schizophrenia of Syntagma Square with one definitive statement -- that keeping the status quo is not an option. This is critically different from saying things have to change. "Not an option" means something is finished. "Have to change," as some Greek politicians are saying, buys time, which is sometimes necessary and sometimes disastrous.

Whether they know it or not, Greek youth are employing the very latest (or maybe classic, but now better defined) technology for transformational change. The first question in the minds of most people who want to make a major change (i.e. revolution) is "how." Intuitive as this may be, this seemingly good question often becomes a major barrier to change. That's because it's so often actually a defensive question filled with fear of losing control and risking failure, and without giving up some control and taking some risks, change is impossible. But if one shows an irrefutable reason that the status quo is no longer acceptable, as these youth are doing by presenting themselves, "yes" takes president over how. And in "yes" or "absolutely" people find the freedom, determination, and capacity to create. Then the how develops itself. Check out The Answer to How is Yes: Acting on What Matters by change management expert Peter Block.

This revolution also a breakthrough moment in Greece's capacity for learning. The youth in the streets have parked whatever fear, helplessness, hopelessness, and social stigma may have been holding them back. With their presence, they are saying, "it's okay not to know. I am not too cool for school. I am not ashamed to appear unpolished. I am willing to go through the uncomfortable learning stage that adapting to a changed reality and new requirements requires. I am not a politician. I am a leader who will pioneer new, sustainable territory, and I'm not afraid to look disorganized while I do it." This is fundamental to learning and an essential mind-set whose absence in Greek society has held them back immeasurably- immeasurably that is, until this crisis.

This kind of risk-taking done for the greater good, versus the shameful infighting of Greek officials and the rich hoarding billions in unpaid taxes, is civic pride personified.

Don't quit. Persist. Keep coming out into the streets. In addition to influencing the current situation, through this process you will learn how to organize. How to transform the energy of outrage and frustration into constructive, well-directed power. Gather ideas from old pros like Theodorakis, but make your own decisions about what is right for today. Maintain a presence. Stay visible to the government and other officials -- to the world.

But most of all, stay non-violent.

And maybe even, rather than chanting any slogan, as un-Greek as it may seem, stand SILENT for extended periods of time. Silence is an almighty tool. It denies the listener any words to refute or twist or use as a weapon against you. With lips and ears at rest, eyes meet eyes - which makes it much harder to lie. Silence can act like a mirror forcing people to look at themselves and the impact of their behavior. It can call them to conscience faster and deeper than any words, no matter how true.

Do not allow politicians and the filthy rich to forget for a minute whom they are hurting if they prolong this crisis. Let them see that while they are individually fighting to win every battle, they are collectively losing the war. Draw them out of their comfortable space of denial, up to a higher calling.

You are not stuck anymore. You are making monumental progress that will stand the test of time. Constructing new pillars for your society that will endure like those of the Acropolis. At the end of this experience, you will be more ready to lead Greece and build a great life for you and your children than ever. You will have become the pillars, the heroes, and leaders.