Can a secure job be utopian and a dream – conservative?

Mar 17, 2013 by

Can a secure job be utopian and a dream – conservative?


“What are your dreams for the year 2050?,” I asked a bunch of 14- and 15-year-olds at a German Gymnasium last week. This was a transfer-in into a project week on green mobility aiming to release youth’s creativity through innovative group facilitation methods.

“Think of one dream for yourself and one for the world and write them down. We will pin them up on a board and see what kind of a future map we’ll come up with.” “Why shall we do that?” asked one of the pupils, unwillingly picking up a marker. “Well, once you write down your dream, you become aware of it. And once you become aware of it, you can move towards it and make it come true”. Some of the pupils found it inspiring; others still looked at me with suspicion. No wonder, we rarely speak of dreams these days.

A great majority of pupils wrote down “a secure job”. Money and fun followed.  Health and travelling were mentioned once.  Intact environment, preservation of woods, “stop animal torture” and other ‘green dreams’ dominated the other part of the map – the dreams for the world.

In both cases the dream was about preservation of the old, rather than exploration of  the new – preservation of the status quo and the material well-being of their parents on the one hand, and preservation of the natural environment on the other. Both wishes, so it seemed to me, sprang out of the feeling of fear, feeling of being deprived of something hitherto taken for granted – be it a job, a house, a green park outside of the window. This was interesting but somehow not quite what I imagined.

“So what about travelling? Would you rather travel or have a job first?, I asked to spark off the discussion on our dreams.  “Yes, for a year abroad, to gain experience, but then I would like to come back”, one girl said and most other pupils nodded. I found it interesting – the unbroken unisono acceptance of the primate of stability and security that I sensed in the classroom.

A generation ago, this moderation wall that we have just created would have been seen a visit-card of the bourgeois, the narrow-minded, the materialistic, and the boring. A generation ago, many young people  questionedtheir parents’ legacy, lifestyle and values. “We don’t need no education”, reverberated in my mind, as I later reflected on that day. Nowadays, young people associate stability and security not so much with narrow-mindedness but rather with the possibility of self-development. Is it because most walls are no more there? Or is it because of the fear that what has been achieved, the stability of the post-war Western society, is under threat? I phrased the questions slightly differently:

“What would your parents have said, what were their dreams?”, I asked after we had our dream-map pinned all over with secure jobs. “I guess their dreams were kind of bigger…”, said one girl shyly, her voice rising at the end of the sentence.

“What do you mean be bigger?”, I drilled relentlessly. “I don’t know…not about the jobs..”. “Free love and sex”, one boy in the other corner of the classroom said and started giggling.  “They were more utopian”, a rather confident bespectacled boy ventured. “What do you mean by that? What is utopian?”, I asked. Silence. “Can a secure job be utopian?” I said and pointed towards one of the cards of the moderation wall. “No, it has to be something more like a revolution…”, “But it is difficult to get, a good job, it can be utopian…” a boy with the glasses counteracted and smiled. He was proud of himself, he made a good point.

A day later I heard a program on the values of the today’s youth: according to the newest studies,  the young generation has become „spiessig” – an interesting German word, meaning  bourgoius, middle-class, with pejorative connotations. They have little dreams, they aim for freedom rather than Freedom, they are comfortable,  they do not question what they see, the guests in the program argued.

As I listened to those accusing evaluations, I thought:  maybe there are times of big dreams aiming to destroy big walls (I have recently seen Les Miserables, if one needs a reference to this rather abstract phrases), and the times of small dreams that are planted upon the smaller walls?  Maybe studies say little and it is the individuals that in the end dream (and realise?) big dreams? Or are we out of the epoque of big dreams and we should rework the concept of a transfer-in of our project weeks alltogether?



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