Recently in class we’ve been reading moral philosophy and trying to answer the question of what makes something right – what is it to do good and be good?
This afternoon, I was struck by a quote from Jeremy Bentham, who said that “the interest of the community” is a phrase used so often that it loses its meaning and moral significance. From Bentham’s utilitarian perspective, the interests of the community are the interests of its members. Leaving aside the tricky philosophical questions, Bentham’s quote got me thinking about the idea of ‘community’ and its importance when we are trying to do good.
This summer, I was lucky enough to attend the McKinsey Leadership Academy, a two-day residential packed with challenging team building exercises, skill development workshops and opportunities to learn more about, and put into practice, leadership. It was a fantastic energising experience (apart from the loss of aforementioned socks) and I felt truly empowered. Supported brilliantly by Future Foundations and McKinsey coaches, I left the Academy feeling ready to take action and make a difference in my community (that word again; community).
At the residential however, surrounded by 99 other young leaders, each wonderful and inspirational in their own way, I experienced a new kind of community. This was a community of youth – of young people sharing ideas and skills with each other. Before, when I thought of community, I thought of something geographical, defined by identity or interests. Now, I realise that community can transcend the boundaries of a map. It is about a coming together of hearts (passion) and minds (ideas) irrespective of social background or personality. The community of youth is defined by its innovation and its courage. It is a powerful community and one of which I am glad to be a part!
Back home in Oxford, I try regularly to reflect on the community I am serving. Who is a part of my community, what do they need and how can I help them? More and more often, I find that my answer draws me towards this community of youth. It is not enough to consider just those immediately around me. As a member of a new, digital generation, the boundless possibilities of online communication present exciting new possibilities for the empowerment of communities of young leaders, unconstrained by literal distance.
Each of us is taking away our own leadership project from the Academy. I am working on creating a space for this community of youth to collaborate and develop. I’ve started with a Facebook page: for sharing opportunities and knowledge.
Finally, what is a YOB? A YOB is a young, original and brilliant member of this community of youth. I believe that it is time for young people to reclaim their public image and come together to create positive change. To paraphrase Bentham, ‘something which is good for the community is something that increases the happiness of its members’. My goal is to support the members of the community of youth to become leaders in whichever community they choose to be a part of.
The final question then, is if encouraged and supported, what is the limit of young people’s potential?
I think the wider world will be pleasantly surprised.