I am attending the One Young World Summit in Dublin next month. Amongst other avenues that will allow delegates to meaningfully engage at the conference, one activity involves submitting an essay on the following question: how would you give young people a voice in government?

In my response, I would like to share an incident that is no more than two or three months old. I don’t recall the exact date of the incident but the memory of the events that unfolded that day are somehow still perfectly preserved in their original, pristine form.

When I woke up at 4am the house bell was incessantly ringing. Although the bell was faint, nothing else could have woken me up at such a godforsaken hour. Anyway, I crawled out of bed and gradually made it to the gate. The bells were so persistent and pressing, I simply walked out barefoot, in my underwear. Two policemen had taken five boys into custody for tossing a brick at my car and shattering its right side, door window.

I couldn’t understand why any person would do such a thing. I simply looked at the boys, all between the ages of fifteen and sixteen, and asked why.

‘Why would you do this to my car?’

Their knee jerk reaction was to play dumb but ultimately when the policemen mentioned the words ‘lock up’ they spilled their story and admitted guilt in a flash. Having said that, they still weren’t able to answer my question and until much later I was intrigued by their behavior.

Indeed, it was a rude interruption that disrupted my sleep and cost me a fair bit of money, but I wasn’t willing to discuss the way forward with the policemen without understanding why those boys did what they did. Besides, I remembered a time when I scratched a car as a boy. I watched someone else do it and I thought it was ‘cool’. Thankfully, my career as car scratcher didn’t last very long; in fact it didn’t even exceed 24 hours. When my father found out what I had done, he took me out to the garage and said, “I would like to see you scratch my car.” Right then, for me, the idea of scratching cars evaporated forever. My father didn’t need to hit me (which is fairly standard in Pakistan). Nor did he scold me. Instead, he taught me a lesson I could never forget.

Similarly, it turned out that the boys I interacted with were ‘having fun and meant no real harm’. As I dug deeper into their personal lives I also learnt that with the exception of one boy, the one missing ingredient they all shared was the active inclusion of their fathers in their day to day life. Jackpot. Things were beginning to make sense and I could finally go back to sleep.

I’ll say this at the risk of sounding clichéd, but a child, essentially, is like a dry sponge eager to absorb new experiences. Young people have a greater capacity to retain information. They are more flexible towards new ideas and most importantly, they are the future of the world we inhabit. Considering all this, we cannot expect them to grow into role models all on their own.

If we hope one day for young people to have an active voice in government, the best thing we can do for them is to equip them with the right education. In Pakistan, the ‘right education’ means teaching young people ‘how to think’ as opposed to ‘what to think’; it means teaching them the power of words and free speech; it means providing access to unbiased literature on subjects that directly influence the health of the state like history, political science and economics; it means teaching them the role they can play in shaping society; it means teaching them humanity as opposed to religiosity; it means teaching them fairness, tolerance, leadership and peace.

Ultimately, it’s important for us to realize that precocious youth doesn’t fall like rain from the sky; it’s cultivated after years and years of exposure to civic affairs that inculcate a sense of ownership; a sense of belonging; a sense of responsibility; a sense that tossing a brick at another car or scratching it will eventually hurt no one but me. And when this sense becomes truly innate as involuntary behavior, young people will find their own avenues to government. At that point, whether a young person stands on a podium in a marketplace to address people, or releases viral videos on the internet to amass a following behind a new idea, or simply decides to contest elections – the avenue he or she chooses to influence or be part of the government, becomes secondary.

 The writer is a communications consultant based in Lahore.

Khizr.imran@gmail.com