I have a Pakistani friend who is approaching her 90th birthday. Let me call her Katherine. She is certainly not a youth. But the youth can learn from her independent thinking. And that is what we need, irrespective of age.

Katherine was born in a European country and came to Pakistan before she was twenty and has lived here ever since, making her a Pakistani by now, I suppose. But I also hope that she has kept quite a bit of the values, knowledge and skills she was taught where she grew up – the same way I hope that Gujratis and other Pakistanis who immigrate do not forget their heritage when they move to Oslo, Barcelona or Manchester.

To learn to think differently and independently doesn’t mean that we abandon what we grew up with. But it does mean that we also learn along the way, so that we can become more tolerant, creative and open-minded. We must never become complacent or grumpy old women and men, at any age.

A couple of years ago, Katherine had an accident and broke her hip. I thought that would be the end of her active life, and that she might soon join the two husbands she had outlived. But I was wrong. She was not in the mood to call it a day. She had more to do, more opinions to express, more things to learn, more places to see, and more people to engage with. Thanks to her willpower and stubbornness, she was out on her walks and took up her usual activities after a short while in bed. She was thankful for the slim and light body God had given her, and she had done her part to maintain it and be physically and mentally active.

“Age is not a number”, Katherine told me. “Age is how you feel and what you make it to be yourself.”

That isn’t entirely true, but there is truth to it.

The lesson I draw from Katherine is that we should listen to authority, but also think independently. If she had listened only to her doctors, and behaved as the old lady she actually was, she would probably have been sitting in a wheelchair today.

Irrespective of age, we must trust our own thinking as individuals and groups. We must compare notes and learn from others – never get stuck in outdated ways. By nature, the youth wants to do things its own way. But they also want to conform and become respected adults. Hence, they must be encouraged to ask questions, be innovative, and do things differently. The home, school, workplace, and society’s many organisations must instil alternative thinking and behaviour in the youth, and find concrete methods for how to do it.

Sadly, today, we see cases when young people are becoming less tolerant than older people, even extremist right-wingers. That is scary – and we who are older must take on us much of the responsibility for not having been good enough teachers and preachers of the right values, for having permitted antisocial attitudes to develop. It is the ‘successful’ middle-aged lot who are to be blamed, those who often worship money and love for oneself more than love for God and one another.

On August 12, the United Nations International Youth Day will be celebrated. The UN day has been celebrated every year since 2000 and it includes everyone. That is essential, although I wouldn’t mind that every religion and other organisations, alone and in groups, held youth and children’s days. Nothing can be more important than engaging youth for good causes, so they can learn from each other, understand solidarity and become independent thinkers.

In 2001, the UN Educational, Cultural and Scientific Organisation (UNESCO) launched what became the International Decade for a Culture if Peace and Non-Violence for the Children of the World, lasting till 2010, using the following slogans: respect all life; reject violence; share with others; listen to understand; preserve the planet; rediscover solidarity.

At the beginning of the decade, I worked in UNESCO dealing with education for Afghan refugees in Pakistan, and the topic was particularly meaningful as it focused on the tragedy of war right at Pakistan’s doorsteps, and taking up issues of relevance to people living anywhere on the globe. I wish the decade could have been made into a century for peace. Sadly, we have seen an increase in terrorist attacks; we must blame ourselves for not having done enough to stop that trend. However, I think we are finally on the right track, seeing less violence. But we mustn’t loose the sight of the ball; peaceful coexistence has to be created again and again, all the time; homemade local solutions count, and so do global and universal ideals and actions.

The third youth day I will draw attention to is the oldest one, notably the World Festival of Youth and Students, which has been organised since 1947 jointly by the World Federation of Democratic Youth and the International Union of Students, a left-wing organisation. It belongs to ‘the old time’ in many ways, and USA has accused it of being a propaganda arm for communism. Its two latest festivals were held in Pretoria, South Africa in 2010 and in Quito, Ecuador in 2013, and the next is planned for Sochi, Russia, in 2017. We must also be open to this organisation; we don’t all have to think alike. Mainstream activities are important as well as such that question ‘everything’. Youth should question issues and suggest new, untried and alternatives ways out of quagmires and frozen conflicts.

Currently, there is focus on the Kashmir conflict. I am glad the youth and politicians are engaged, holding seminars, reminding the UN of the situation, and searching for alternative solutions. It is the youth that must solve that protracted conflict, which is a scar on our region. Both sides, Pakistan and India, should not continue blaming the other side for everything that is wrong. The youth on both sides must find new, unorthodox ways ahead. The old ways haven’t worked! I do not know how to solve it. Maybe the parties could have joint jurisdiction over the territories, if nothing else is possible? True, that could be an everlasting quarrel, but it could also be the beginning of a new day. I believe that the Norwegian Peace Professor Johan Galtung (an old friend of Sartaj Aziz, Pakistan’s topmost foreign affairs adviser) has suggested such a way. Pessimistic people, and forces who don’t want solutions, may say that this is just academic daydreaming, far away from practical politics. But then, alternative thinking is often like that! We need to discuss and talk more, formulate new theories and models, and find other ways ahead, even if we may be ridiculed by some for being unrealistic – in Kashmir and elsewhere.

We must never let those who want conflicts to last forever to win, or those who seek selfish solutions for the wealthy and privileged. In Europe, the often heated debates about immigrants and refugees, and the half-hearted integration efforts, show that we have not taken issues seriously enough. We have let key issues in our time drift. Now, it is time to dig deeper and search for solutions from other angles, radically and differently – in Europe and in Kashmir. It is the young who must do all this, with support of the rest – giving Katherine and me real reasons for ‘hanging in’ for some more time, so that we can celebrate the new and better days together with the youth.