On Purpose and Civic Engagement

From a 4-H beginning to capitol hill. Civic identity and engagement is a developmental process

As that old saying goes: unless you live under a rock…. You know that the mid-term election season has arrived. Yard signs are up, candidates’ visual ads are pointing out the flaws of their opponents, and the airwaves are filled with analyses of potential scenarios related to the outcomes of the election. One of the rising concerns is the disinterest of many young people toward the elections. As I was driving home the other day I was listening to a reporter interviewing a young man in his early 20s about his plans to vote. In response to her question he replied:

“Look, I’m a gamer boy, so no, I am not voting. Because I don’t really… care?” The last word rising sharply after a pause to highlight how ridiculous the reporter’s question was to him. I don’t know about you, but this young man’s words chilled me to the bone. Not just because of his apathy, but because a missed opportunity. Because developmentally, it may be too late to instill a sense of civic responsibility in his worldview.

Civic engagement is deeply connected to a young person’s sense of purpose. As William Damon states in his book The Path to Purpose: How Young People Find Their Calling in Life: “There is reason to believe that a person’s crucial orientations to life incubate during adolescence. If civic concern is not among them, it may never rise.” Furthermore, Dr. Damon goes on to say that “a budding civic identity becomes the basis for dedication to the community, and eventually to the broader society.” And a young person’s emerging purpose is always tied to something bigger than the self – something that will eventually benefit others.

Recently, the national 4-H program changed the mission area of Citizenship to Civic Engagement, a more appropriate title for a program area that covers a lot of ground. This title change brings the important work that 4-H does in this area into better alignment with the developmental nature of civic engagement for youth, as a process (beginning to sound familiar?) rather than an outcome.

There is a reason we emphasis civic engagement in 4-H, and we do so in a variety of ways, from learning parliamentary procedures in club meetings, participating in community service, to statehouse visits, encouraging youth advocacy, National 4-H Conference and more. 4-H has long understood the power of shaping civic identity in youth. And in doing so, contributes to youth thriving through the development of a hopeful purpose.

….for my club, my community, my country, and my world.

Thriving on,

Mary Arnold

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