During the summer I run an organization called KIVU. We have teenagers from all over the world, from all different cultures and all different faiths. They get the opportunity to explore Colorado adventures, build lasting relationships and discuss hard issues about faith.
We've had Christians, Muslims, Jews, atheists, agnostics and kids from all sorts of Eastern traditions, and one thing we find common among teenagers -- they're dealing with the same stuff.
This last summer, I had a chance to host some kids from Jordan and it was one of the highlights of my student work over the last 15 years. (At one session we had over 22 countries represented.)
We had a chance to raft, bike, hike, and dance.
We had a chance to share our history and culture together.
We talked about the differences and the similarities of our own faith traditions.
But most of all, we learned the human experience is undeniably similar.
The teenagers from America are dealing with the same things teenagers from Jordan are dealing with. The teenagers from China are struggling to understand the same things the students from Europe are working on.
And the parents... well, when the parents came to pick up their kids, they had a chance to learn new ways of thinking about many different kinds of issues.
Jordanian Students and I Meet to Talk about Future Global Initiatives
I just got back from a conference of Arab League nations where we talked about serious global issues in the region, and one of the bewildering truths I'm finding in my work around the world is, "We're all just trying to live the life we have been given for the time we're on this Earth."
We fight so much about things that are important in the moment, but most everyone on the planet is trying to figure out what is true, how to raise a family, how to work a job that gives them more opportunities, and how to provide for loved ones. Students aren't different.
They're concerned with school, sports and social standing. They want to impress people around them so they feel important. They're longing for someone to validate them as people. And most of all, they just don't want to live life alone.
The more I work with students, the more I'm committed to help them live in a space where they can learn how to recognize 'leadership means understanding people.'
Leadership isn't about just talking about your opinion or disagreeing with someone else's. True Global leadership is understanding where another person comes from. It's about listening to their struggle, to figure out their life circumstances. It's about learning how to find compromise when conflict comes up, but it's also about celebrating the things we all have in common. The leaders we're trying to raise up are those who can function in a place where they understand each other as human beings first, and then discover things that make us all different.
I wonder what the world would look like if every teen had the opportunity to have someone in their world who could recognize the importance of understanding each other.
Maybe the times when they are leading a company, a government, or even just a family, when conflict arises and they are tempted to leverage their own personal agendas; they will have a memory, a past reference, a place where they can recall the times when they knew, "we're all just trying to make it work."