The nature of empowerment

“Through barren thorns we plant our seeds to be sown, but with no nourishment how are we meant to reap our crop and plant our standing stones?”

This is a line from ‘Heavy is my Heart’, a song written by 21-year-old Mikey Tait – stage name Karacta – from south-west London. It expresses his dissatisfaction with humans’ disconnection from Nature and from each other. Tait is by no means alone in thinking this.

According to preliminary findings from a survey of 10,000 young people in ten countries, 59 percent of respondents said they were very or extremely worried about climate change. Over half felt “sad, anxious, angry, powerless, helpless, and guilty”.

Education

The research, led by the University of Bath, concluded that climate anxiety in many children was associated with “inadequate governmental responses” and urged immediate action as a result.

As ecopsychologist Joanna Macy argues, when we feel disempowered we closet our anger, fear and anxiety. The result is denial, depression and apathy.

How, then, in the face of continued inaction on the part of many governments, can we help mitigate this? Part of the answer lies in creating a safe space for connection and expression.

The Visionaries is a London-based organisation that works with schools to help young people gain a sense of empowerment and a healthy relationship with the natural world.

“As long as we are disempowering people from a young age, which the education system often does, we are delaying the possibility for more participatory solutions to the climate crisis,” operations director Max Girardeau tells me.

Barefoot

He explains that the ‘hero mindset’ in the current education system encourages young people to believe that someone else in a more advantageous position will fix the global problems, rather than taking responsibility themselves.

To counteract this, The Visionaries runs wilderness rites of passage experiences for young people from inner cities to help them develop confidence in themselves and appreciate their own gifts.

Girardeau feels that this sort of transition experience from adolescence to adulthood is often not supported in society and the current education system and is vital to the empowerment of young people.

Some of the young people who participate have never been outside the city – sometimes even their own postcode – and having time alone in Nature and camping with a group of others is a novel and transformative experience for many.

Tait took part in one of the programmes. “We were walking barefoot to connect with the earth and I had this weird thing,” he told me.

Confidence

“I thought, why is dirt from the ground associated with something nasty? It’s just earth. I can wash it off. It’s not hurting me. So why has that been an issue for me? Why, until now, have I not walked outside barefoot? Why is it weird? We live on this Earth but we can’t walk barefoot.”

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