Thursday, Jan. 31, 2008 | 6 a.m.
More than 950 students from 45 high schools throughout Southern Nevada participated in the 52nd annual Sun Youth Forum on Nov. 20. The students were divided into groups to discuss a variety of topics. A spokesperson was chosen from each group to write for Class Magazine about the students' findings.
Living a sheltered life in which I am rarely subject to contrasting opinions has blinded me from those divergent ideas. The Las Vegas Sun Youth Forum proved to be extremely beneficial to both the developing and mature minds because it exposed people like me to different educated views.
It's one thing to hear people discharge irrationalized viewpoints, certain that they're always right. But at the Sun Youth Forum, Las Vegas teens were able to justify their points of view with well-informed rationalizations. In my group, Around the World, the involved students used nearly every source they had to justify their beliefs, from personal experience to statistics and more.
The first question we discussed seemed simple at first: "What is a leader?" This was first answered with a list of qualities: motivated courages, accepted, responsible, honest, etc. Then the discussion became more complex, focusing on what leadership is dependent upon. We came to the conclusion that a leader cannot exist in a vacuum. The leaders needs followers to lead. One partaker interjected that a leader must be able to listen to those particular followers. Somewhere in the crowd a mumbled "Bush" could be heard, and the debates were well on their way.
Discussions on leadership quickly led to our next conflict-filled topic: is America overstepping its boundaries in international affairs?
Sifting through heated debates about the War in Iraq, the genocide in Darfur and the United Nations, our group surprisingly came to a consensus. "Yes" was the effortless answer. The problem, however, came in the justifications for why we believed America was overstepping its bounds.
No two people in a group of almost 40 shared the exact same warrants or justification. Some believed that just because the United States has a lot of power doesn't mean they are the police of the world. Others believed that it would be best to ignore international issues until our own problems are solved. Still others found a middle ground between the two extremes and proposed that international issues be placed in the jurisdiction of the United Nations. This would allow the U.S. to focus on its own issues while simultaneously preventing atrocities elsewhere in the world. The U.N. corruption and empirical failures was brought up, and the arguing raged on.
The last major subtopic concerning international relations was the idea of national interest. Being very leftist on the issue myself, I was surprised when a majority of the room believed that if America had to pick and choose countries to intervene in, it would be best to utilize those that are in our best interest. Not genocides. Not civil wars. But more Iraqs -- more invasions that spur spur economy. I was stunned.
Then I heard a comment that I will never forget: "We shouldn't try to stop genocide because it happens everywhere, and those disease-ridden Africans are going to die anyways."
What? Was that really said? I only bring up the issue because of its importance to me. It was at that moment that I realized I'm not in charge. My values are not the same as everyone else's. Sure, I still find it repugnant, but it is someone else's point of view. This statement led me to believe that the notion of inevitability is more widespread than I thought.
I therefore learned to become a greater leader because I understood that these shouldn't be suppressed; instead they should be heard so they can be answered with counter speech. forums like the one we participated in are some of the best places to express divergent discourse because they allow everyone in the room, including the speaker and counter speaker, to justify their own positions.
Anticlimactically, we recessed for lunch and returned for a discussion on immigration. "What is the solution for illegal immigration? we discussed. returning from lunch, we found our seats to be set up in modular smaller circles (instead of organized in one large circle as before) so that more people could be heard.
Though reluctant to participate first, I know understood the forum's value and really started to speak up in the second half. Our smaller groups came up with three basic solutions to immigration problems. One group viewed immigration as a security issue and discussed how terrorists can easily cross the border. Their solution was to make it more difficult to enter America in order to secure our freedom.
Another solution involved embracing the idea of a "melting pot" and allowing more immigration because it stimulates the economy by having immigrates work difficult jobs; they also brought up how virtually all "Americans" are in fact descendants of other immigrants.
Then came the middle ground idea: instead of just getting rid of security, our group proposed that getting a workers visa or citizenship should be facilitated. That way other people could enjoy the benefits of the U.S. while still paying taxes and participating in communitarian life. Also, we mentioned that immigration is inevitable. It's only the question of whether the immigrating is done legally or illegally. Facilitation would allow more immigrants to register, thus solving the terrorism problem because they would be accounted for by the government.
We then faced the most difficult question of all. Is world peace possible? Once again our groups came to different conclusions. The first group said that war and disagreement is in human nature and that the only solution is to "agree to disagree." Another group said peace cannot be achieved until security threats like Mahmoud Ahmadinejad are "taken care of." A third section said that at present most conflicts stem from Israeli/Palestinian conflict. Their solution was to make Israel international territory governed by the U.N.
Our group believed that people are born good and innocent, but a society of constant warfare, conflict and sometimes fundamentalist brainwashing blinds people from realizing the possibility of peace.
Based on my experience at the Sun Youth Forum, overall I learned that there is a concrete value in discussing the different issues that affect us all. Many of us live in societies in which our outlook of the world is shared by those around us. But it is necessary to be exposed to diverse ideas in order to question our own and come to our own conclusions.
Saxe is a senior at Meadows High School whose group covered the topic of Around the World.