COUNTERING HATE: We must apply critical thinking and speak out against hate, says young leaders

Jacob Peenikaparambil
28 Sep 2020

At a Webinar organized by USM Indore on 20th September 20202, 120 young leaders who have been part of Universal Solidarity Movement (USM) Indore shared how the values they have imbibed from the USM have become the foundation of their life and are guiding them through the thick and thin of life.  They are from all parts of India. Most of these young people have taken part in the one week Enlightened Leadership Training or Knit India or both organized by the USM and are being in touch with the USM. At a time when the Indian society is becoming highly polarized, a good number of the young people who shared their experiences and views emphasized the need for analysing the issues using critical thinking and raising voice against spreading misinformation, hatred and prejudice. 

Twelve of the young leaders shared the core values and insights they have absorbed from the USM and how these values are impacting their lives. The most important insight or learning from the USM for the majority of the young people is the need for having a vision for life and clarity about the purpose of life. As a result, they are able to focus in life and prioritize issues and needs and make informed choices in life. For example Lavesh Mathur of St. Theresa’s School, Jaipur acknowledged that as a result of joining USM he has made considerable improvement in his studies. During the leadership training the students were guided to evolve a vision for life and formulate goals and policies to realize the vision. 

Another important value the speakers emphasized during their sharing is the courage to speak against the evils in the society. Divij Srivastava who works as a software engineer appealed to his friends, “defeat prejudice against any particular community, raise voice against hatred and spread love”. Gokul Prabhu in his sharing said, “Prevent misinformation and educate people to have critical thinking”. During the leadership training in the USM and Knit India programme the students get an opportunity to see and experience the practice of pluralistic spirituality by the USM community. They also understand that pluralism i.e. acceptance, appreciation and celebration of diversity is the millennial heritage of India and only pluralism can ensure peace and harmony in the society. Some of the speakers during their sharing said that humanity is the greatest religion for them and they follow pluralistic spirituality.  
Being sensitive to others, especially to the underprivileged and respecting the dignity of all with equal treatment was emphasised by a good number of young leaders during their sharing. They also shared how they are practicing these values. Meenakshi Jain, a former student of St. Mary’s Convent School, Allahabad, said that all her family members celebrate their birthday with blind students. She is feeling very sad because most of the students in rural areas are not able to access online classes. Hence she is planning to develop a technology that can benefit the rural students in accessing online classes. Harshpreeth Saluja, a postgraduate student, said that he and his father took initiative to feed the hungry migrant workers. 

Ankita Das who has been part of USM for about ten years has started a ‘mutual well being programme’ to support her colleagues who have become depressed due to Covid 19. She also made a recommendation to the head of the organization in which she works as journalist to include the housekeeping staff for rewards and recognition. Muscan Jain a law student teaches poor rural children as an expression of her giving back to the nation. Jinesh Sharma along with his parents visited and interacted with the inmates of an old age home on his birthday.  

Being honest and transparent in public and private life, being inclusive, daily evaluation at the end of the day and planning for the next day, humanity- the greatest religion, being courageous and confident, faith in pluralistic spirituality, making a contribution to the society/humanity or giving back to the society, possibility thinking with the question, “Why not” are other insights and values the young leaders have internalized from the USM. 

Almost all the speakers acknowledged that the practice of Five Paths of Self Transformation taught by USM has made a difference in their lives and they strongly believe that self transformation is the key for social transformation. Lovina D’souza who was an animator in USM about 20 years ago said that the Five Paths have become a way of life for her. Regarding the impact of the Enlightened Leadership Training most of them said that it was a life changing experience for them because it helped them to evolve a vision for life and become aware of the purpose of life and the need for leaving a legacy. 

Another aspect highlighted by the participants of the webinar was the life in the USM community. They said that the USM community practices what they teach. Warm, cordial and generous hospitality at any time of the day, inclusive way of life and equal treatment for all irrespective of the role and function in the community were highlighted by the participants. 

Besides those students who have been part of USM, teachers, principals and a few well-wishers and friends of USM also participated in the webinar. There were altogether 160 participants. Many participants expressed their appreciation of the webinar by writing their views in the chat box. 

 “It was extremely wonderful to be here in this webinar reminding the atmosphere of USM after so long”. Ritika Soni 
“Greetings to my USM family! I feel extremely overwhelmed when I listen to everyone speaking about the impact that USM has had on everyone's lives! USM is responsible for the huge transformation for me personally. And listening to Fr. Varghese and his motivating and inspiring words I am reminded of the values yet again. We need to have more such sessions”.  Rhea Dontul, ex-student of Carmel of St Joseph, Mumbai

“Very enriching shared experience by the youth has enriched my life too. Thank you so much for arranging an online webinar and united everyone for the gathering. I am sure my staff and students too got some insights by hearing others speak with conviction .Thanks to the USM Community once again”.  Sr. LYDIA 

The participants were asked their opinion with regard to the follow up of the webinar. Majority of them suggested organizing at least one webinar in a month focusing on different topics. 

The USM community and Fr. Varghese are proud of the young people because they have made the values they imbibed from USM the foundation of their lives. In spite of the various challenges they confront in their personal and professional life they are courageous to stick to the core values they have absorbed from the USM. USM is an experiment to inculcate in the students the universal values taught by Jesus and enshrined in the constitution of India. If USM has succeeded in its mission to some extent why don’t the Catholic educational institutions do the same? When USM was in financial crisis due to the stoppage of training programmes because of the Covid 19, a group of USM alumni took the initiative to raise funds for the USM.

The biggest challenge as well as opportunity for the Church in India is imparting effectively the core values of Jesus to the millions of students studying in the Catholic educational institutions. This is possible if there is strong determination on the part of the concerned persons and if they adopt suitable methods.  One of the most effective programmes of Universal Solidarity Movement (USM) Indore is one week Enlightened Leadership Training for High School students. I have seen and experienced radical transformation taking place in the participants of the training. Later when I meet the parents in their schools after six months or one year parents of these students confirm that drastic changes with regard to their value system, attitude and behaviour have taken place in their children and the changes are sustainable. 
Each religious congregation and diocese or a group of dioceses together may start communities on the pattern of the USM and provide leadership training to the students and young people on the pattern of the training imparted by the USM. Every year thousands of students can be made the disciples of Jesus and responsible citizens imbued with the core values of the Indian constitution. They in turn will influence others to become the disciples of Jesus and responsible citizens who are ready to make a significant contribution to the nation and humanity. In the current socio-political scenario of India, when millions of students and young people are brainwashed with a dangerous ideology of exclusion and hatred, transforming them with the values of Jesus is not an option but a bounden duty of the Church personnel. 

(jacobpt48@gmail.com)

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