You may be wondering: Indeed, why is youth voice important? I would invite you to try a simple experiment. Find a youth. Ask them a question. Now listen. Make space and make time. Let them know that you are not expecting “the right answer” or for them to talk to you in a way that makes it easy for you to hear or conformed to your way of thinking. Don’t expect to fix, educate, mentor, or inspire anyone. Don’t plan to have a to-do list, assignment chart, or anything of the sort. Just listen. In the end, say thank you for the time they have given you.

Now, consider what you may have learned. You may have learned that your fear that you cannot fix everything is something that they already presupposed – but that they just wanted to be heard and that was something you did do. In that moment, it may have made all the difference. You will likely never know. You might learn that they are afraid that when asked to contribute they don’t know all the fancy words being used, what all the numbers mean, or that “chai square” isn’t some fancy new drink at the local coffee shop. You will laugh together at the bad joke and both be relieved that neither of you have the answer, nor do either of you expect the other to know everything. You might hear that they have hopes and dreams and desires for the world wholly unlike your own, but equally wonderful. You will share a bit of humanity and humility at the chance to see through another’s eyes. You will see and be seen. In short, you may become connected – even if for a brief moment. Not connected in a way that provides a step-by-step plan to “become authentically engaged” or in a way that looks down the meeting attendee list to see whether “youth voice is represented,” but in a human way that compels you to not just know, not just hear, but to actually feel how this voice and yours are intertwined as part of the human fabric of the world. You may have to try it a few times. Making it a habit will change your life. You must genuinely be curious. But once you do truly take the time to listen, you will never again ask “why is youth voice important,” because you will know. You will recognize their voice in your own. You will hear it in your rulings and arguments in court, your project proposals and quarterly reports. You will hear their words come from you as you talk to their peers and ask better questions as you begin to learn more. You will learn to listen for their voice in all the work you do and sense where it is absent because your own work will feel incomplete without it. In the end, you may even see your voice carried on in some little way in the work that they do long after your own voice goes silent and they begin listening to a generation anew. 

Today’s blog post is guest authored by Tim Jaasko-Fisher, principal consultant of TJF Consulting, LLC and the Director for Internal Capacity Building at the Capacity Building Center for Courts.