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Bringing Young People into the Global Conversation

By Charles King

February 22, 2024

In Response to Why the Georgetown Global Dialogues?

One of the elements of this new initiative, the Georgetown Global Dialogues, that I find most encouraging is the belief in the idealism and natural cosmopolitanism of young people.

People and entire societies change their minds about things not because of rational argument or the presentation of new evidence that contradicts old assumptions. As the physicist Max Planck once remarked, things change because a new generation of people grows up assuming that the world works very differently from how their parents or grandparents perceived that it did. A new common sense, a new baseline set of prior assumptions about what to expect in the world—these are the outlooks that young people around the world now bring to the table.

If we’re looking to renew a global commitment to equality and access to democratic power, and to continue unbuilding old systems of hierarchy, young people are a vast untapped resource. In country after country, they tend to be more welcoming of difference, more inured to old narratives of nationalism and exclusion, more willing to make communities out of whatever material is on hand. Their common sense is one that is global in its outlook, especially at a moment when worldwide communication and the sheer visibility of human difference have never been more apparent.

The worry, however, is that opponents of these ideas are committed to unmaking them through interventions in higher education, the media, the arts, and other areas held to be bastions of global thinking or, at worst, “indoctrination.” Now is the time to demonstrate that there are still spaces of exchange and communication, places of genuinely free speech and thought, that grow out of the values of equality and encounter. All of this is immensely exciting and the first step in making the common sense of today’s young people ever more common to other generations.

Charles King is a professor of international affairs and government at Georgetown University.