I recently took part in a ZOOM seminar hosted by Ireland’s 2019/2020 United Nations (UN) Youth Delegates Valery Molay and Jack O’Connor. The webinar was an opportunity to understand the role of the UN Youth Delegate Programme and for Valery and Jack to reflect on their journey so far. I wanted to improve my understanding of the work of the UN, so I eagerly signed up for this webinar.
The discussion was not only informative, but an inspiring account of the important truths they learned throughout their experience. The insights they shared are not only relevant to future youth delegates, but important lessons that we could all benefit from hearing. Here are some of the important points I picked up during the session.
Networking with people across the world
We are continually encouraged to expand our professional network for greater success and bigger rewards, but perhaps it is time to re-evaluate our attitude towards networking. Both Jack and Valery agreed that one of the steepest learning curves of their experience was negotiating with people from different cultures and backgrounds. They emphasised the importance of trying to understand other people’s perspectives as well as the experiences that may have shaped their way of thinking, even if you do not agree with them. While it is natural to be drawn to those who share the same beliefs as us, there is often more to learn from what makes us different than what makes us the same. As well as becoming more understanding and accepting of other people, you are forced to question your own beliefs and assumptions, and consider alternative points of view. So, I urge you to think bigger and network with a purpose that goes beyond the search for your next job.
It is not about what you say, but how it is understood
Once you become aware of the different perspectives of the people you are speaking to, the two delegates highlight the importance of analysing the language you use to get your message across. They said that they were forced to really examine the words they were using to make sure that the correct message was understood by everyone they were talking to. I think this is an important observation to keep in mind when we are communicating, especially with people who belong to a different culture. It is easy to presume that people understand exactly what we mean because it makes sense in our own head. However, the meaning behind our words is open to being interpreted in a variety of different ways depending on the other person’s point of view. By putting more thought into what we say, we can become more considerate of each other’s cultural differences and anticipate the potential for misunderstandings.
Act according to your values, not your goals
When questioned about why they became interested in international relations and sustainable development, the delegates pointed to their sense of global responsibility and the duty that they feel as citizens of the world. Their interest in being youth delegates is not driven by a desire to attend prestigious international events or share the same room as important world leaders. Instead, they are motivated by a strong social conscience and a vision to solve the world’s most pressing issues. That is what landed them the role. So instead of aiming to become successful or famous, I think it’s important to focus our energy on how we can be useful and valuable. If you wake up every day and focus on how you can add value to your work, your relationships, your community and all other areas of your life, success will attract itself to you. When living according to your values becomes your main goal, the rest will fall into place. In the end, it is not who you are that improves the world around you, but what you do.
Being a citizen goes beyond where you live
The discussion also got me thinking about my own status as a citizen and how I move in the world. Do I take part or am I just an observer? Do I speak as well as listen? Jack and Valery’s idea of what it means to be a citizen is about more than just living in a country. It is about recognising the responsibility that comes with the civil freedoms that society has granted us and it starts with what you do in your home, what you do for your community and what discussions you contribute to. It is not a mission reserved for youth delegates or world leaders. So don’t wait until you are given an important title or a position of power before you take your responsibility seriously. The policies and decisions of our leaders will only work if we put them into practice, so our role is equally as important. We rely on them to fight for our needs and give us access to justice, and they rely on us to drive the solutions they give us the tools to create.
I hope the lessons I learned from Jack and Valery’s experience will inspire you as much as they inspired me and serve as some food for thought. If you take one thing away from this article, remember that every voice is an agent of change, and ten voices are better than one. So it starts with you. Exactly where you are. Right now. When you look back at your time in this world, will you have left a positive lasting impression?