Article: The thoughtful

By Flemming Wisler, Futureorientation February 2008

Denmark’s most courted are youth: the teenagers and the ones right behind them. It’s them we are going to ask to bear the burden, them we give political toasts for, and them we have hatched. What do they say about all these expectations? Meet Esben, Josephine, Jakob and Ann-Sofie.

A talk with four young people aged 12-20. A fairly unscientific temperature-taking in today’s Denmark. Nevertheless, some common themes emerge, making the conversation fairly thought-provoking.

You must know day-to-day life before you can know yourself!

Esben is 15 years old and in 9th grade. An age and grade that present few obligations, but that are nevertheless fairly serious. It’s the last year with the gang of friends! High school beckons and, with it, many new challenges that are both tempting and a bit frightening.

It has never been in doubt that high school is the way forward, but, beyond that, the plans are vague. Ten years from now is a long time – but an absolutely lovely journey awaits. That’s the impression you get when you talk with Esben.

He is a Copenhagener, and has conquered the city as his natural home playing field. He may belong to the first true city generation that sees Copenhagen as a player in a far greater network. The distance to the rest of the world is insignificant, and friends are both very close and very distant. They might sit beside you in class, or in front of a screen in an LA suburb.

Concepts such as home, Denmark, friends and, not least, family are at the top of Esben’s list of priorities.

“Family means almost everything for me, and friends also are a kind of family, but you can choose your friends yourself. Family, on the other hand, is a given – a part of one’s destiny!”

He sees the future as a big, positive challenge, but also as a life he must shape himself. “My responsibility” is an attitude that permeates the outlook of young Copenhageners. It almost seems as if the great material wealth and the many opportunities that have dominated our lives over the last many years – also for Esben and his friends – have stamped youth with a somewhat heavier sense of responsibility.

Wangsters take the sting out of 2nd generation immigrants

She is 12 years old and in sixth grade. Josephine also stands on the edge of something new — a new phase in life. It’s about leaving childhood and gliding into the teenage years, when innocence and protection disappear.

From this edge, the world is a huge sensory overload, in which the near and familiar of her affluent neighborhood are disturbed by fragments of news on TV and increasingly serious teaching in school. Talk about war, terrorism, puberty, environment, materials, climate disasters and violence is mixed with the images and color of a thousand advertisements, television shows, music videos and text messages.

Here, family and friends are even more central than in Esben’s case. Safety is synonymous with home, and the future is far too big to contemplate – at any rate, if we look ten years out.

When you are 12, all talk about life oozes with curiosity and excess.

“What about foreigners?” I asked.

“Second generation immigrants aren’t foreigners, they just act tough – the boys, anyway. I like them OK, even though they sometimes look a little dangerous when they want to show off, but they are just wangsters!”

“They are what?” I asked, stirred by hearing a new word directly from the schoolyard.

“Yes! They are wangsters, you know: wannabe gangsters.”

Josephine has embraced more impressions already from a more diverse world than that of many adults, and her picture of life is a mosaic of colors, sounds, pictures and, especially, speed.

The telephone rings a second time, and she is on the way to tennis.

“I have now to go, now. Selina (from Albania) is waiting!

When it just goes around

Jakob thinks it’s a long way from Kalundborg [a provincial Danish town] to Copenhagen. He is 20 years old, and has recently moved to the capital to start a new chapter. He has taken a job delivering mail while he explores the city’s opportunities and his various options for study. Music is his overwhelming interest, one that will, ideally, end in a job in which interest sets the standard. Income is of secondary importance.

For him, the future is closer. He believes we face a huge jump in technology, and he describes a future, 10 years out, in which the one challenge has replaced another, and where Web, telephony, gaming, TV and, not least, access to an increasingly great music universe have moved the boundaries of the imaginable.

Jakob is a cool guy with his own expression. He is ready to conquer his interests. Here, it isn’t important to conquer the world – just a small corner of it. Life is where the ambition of a manageable life of great quality can be realized.

“What about the big picture,” I ask. “The world, environment, politics?”

“We will solve many of the challenges through innovation. We have so many opportunities, and everything will become much more controlled by technology. I may well be worried about the environment, but I am a sinner, too, when it comes to my own daily efforts.”

“What about politics?” I ask.

“Honestly? It means little to me. The borders are too fluid and my influence is elsewhere. I like Denmark, but I don’t go around waving the flag.”

“What about the EU, then?” I ask.

“Doesn’t say much to me. I see it in a greater perspective, and, for myself, globalization is the most important thing.”

“Isn’t there anything that worries you?” I ask.

“Maybe my own generation. I hope that young people become wiser in 10 years.”

“How’s that?” I ask.

“There is too much cynicism and too much attitude is converted into violence. I think because many are indifferent and think of themselves first.”

Social media, networks and communities of interest are part of Jakob’s everyday life, but the social factor is clearly absent at street-level in today’s Denmark.

Corporate society is frightening

She’s studying at Copenhagen Business School (CBS) with a concentration in English and communication.

Ann-Sofie is 20 years old, and comes from Dragør, a town near Copenhagen. She’s in the middle of a well-considered career plan.

“My prospects are open, as far as the future. A good life awaits me, but I have to do it myself,” she says when asked to consider the future 10 years out.

She’s a young woman with many challenges in front of her. Her thoughts very much orbit the great dilemma of holding on to the near and dear, while at the same time grasping the brass ring of her prospects. She has a solid anchor at home and in Denmark, and a ravenous hunger for a large and open world.

“I am a ‘buddy’ for foreign students at CBS. I help them adjust to campus and to all the practical stuff about coming to a new country. It’s great to show them Denmark.”

“So you are proud of Denmark?” I ask.

“Oh, yes, for sure. I think we have much to offer, and our cities, especially Copenhagen, have grown and attained international standards.”

“What about the EU?” I ask.

“Important! The EU is more and more important, but I don’t have a completely favorable view of it. I am both a EU-citizen and a Danish citizen. EU in relation to the big, international perspective, and Danish when it comes to friends and family.”

Where do you see yourself in relation to a career?

“I toy with the idea of traveling to England and working a few years. I’d like to go out in the world, but I will come home again. Friends and family have to be cultivated in Denmark.”

What sort of jobs do you see yourself in?

“I don’t want my life to control me too much. I don’t want to sacrifice everything for a career we see in the large, multinational concerns. There are too much standardization and not enough time for family. Corporate society frightens me.”

But what about income?

“The most important thing is to be comfortable. You can always find a solution, and my future income doesn’t worry me. We have a good social safety net and a good employment rate. That means that I can dare a little more, and spend more time on important things.“

What do you think about most?

“Maybe that I have so many opportunities. Today, it takes extra much to be something special.
You must continue to educate yourself. Nobody wants to be stuck in the same job for long. We won’t see too many 25-year or 50-year jubilees in the future. “

What about the role of being a woman?

“I think we live in a good women’s time. But it is hard to find the balance between roles when you want to do it all. I don’t experience limitations, but I have to create the conditions myself.”

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