United Nations? Greta Thunberg and the Broken Bridge

By: Ben Johnston

Who would have thought that the testimony of a 16-year-old to the United Nations would generate so much ire. Peeking into the Twitter “dialogue” feels like watching an Ultimate Fighting Championship, only with less respect.

Screenshot of Greta Thunberg's twitter

As educators, we strive to prepare students to develop their capabilities through learning so they can make their own way in the world (hopefully in a productive and conscious way). It’s like a bird fledging from the nest (only a lot slower). 


As learning advocates, we need to adopt an attitude like Voltaire’s, “I disapprove of what you say, but I will fight to the death your right to say it.” Disagreeing with the message brings value and real dialogue, even if no opinions change. 


When words carry meaning, they trigger a personal visceral reaction. When the words digress to personal attacks, it says a lot about the inner state of the attacker. It not only makes them look foolish, attackers fail to realize that crucifixion leads to martyrdom.


I don’t want to sound like a nostalgist, but it’s hard not to grasp for something good, true, and beautiful in light of the entrenched partisan battles. 


This is not a right OR left issue because both sides are guilty—which is the root of the problem. Sides. Until people recognize that the sides they represent are two sides of the same coin, we will never get past us or them thinking. We will never mature ourselves—always stuck repeating some middle chapter of Lord of the Flies.


We see that Aldous Huxley was right (channeled through the voice of Pogo) “We have met the enemy and he is us.”


Now it’s time to let out the collective cry as those lost boys on that Pacific island did and weep “for the end of innocence, the darkness of man’s heart.” It’s time to move on and into a new sense of integral freedom and a larger sense of self—one that even crosses over party lines to recognize that there is still good, truth, and beauty in this world. It’s there—under layers of dirt on our hands. Mine included.


I know I personally would feel better knowing that I helped create a generation of individuals with the audacity to speak their minds and drive for something they believe in—even if I don’t agree with what they say. As educators, parents, and human beings, we have the unique opportunity to shape the leaders of tomorrow—to help them learn and lead.


To get more articles like this straight to your inbox, sign up for our Learning Link.

Learn More