Charles Handy sees hope in the campaigning generation
I hadn’t heard of the word “opinionista”, and I think of myself as a wordsmith. I love new words, but I’m not so keen on words that don’t appear in the Oxford English Dictionary or ones that I can’t call up on a thesaurus. It’s hard to pronounce, difficult to spell and, as my mother said, surely there are enough words in the works of William Shakespeare or the Bible to say what you want to say without having to invent new ones. She’s right. This is an invented word, concocted to make the user sound clever.
Why can’t they use simple English words like “model” or “example”? But nowadays it’s the new term in business marketing. You are qualified to be an opinionista if you have 10,000 or more followers on social media, on any of the platforms. Then you’ll probably be approached by a marketing executive who’ll try to persuade you or bribe you to use some perfume or sit in some car in the hope that some of your 10,000 followers will buy their perfume or their car.
Well, I’m all in favour of new business ideas and this is a cheap way of getting new endorsements from famous people. But I prefer the models of the social activists. The two young women, for instance, who are leading new movements to change the world. They’re called Malala and Greta. You would have read about them. They really are the star opinionistas.
In 2008, when Malala was 11 years old, the Taliban took control of the part of Pakistan where she lived. One of the consequences was that girls were no longer allowed to attend school; the Taliban decreed that females were needed solely to produce food and babies. Only boys could receive lessons, to learn to fight.
Later, as a teenager, Malala began to speak out about this injustice. And so the Taliban leaders said: Will somebody get rid of this pesky school girl, she’s a nuisance. So one morning a Taliban soldier got on the school bus. He said, “Who is Malala?” She stood up and said, “I’m Malala”, and he took out his revolver and shot her in the head.
Luckily he missed her brain, just. Her father turned up, whisked her off and put her on a plane to England, where doctors in Birmingham saved her life.
Once she was recovered she continued her campaign, broadening her agenda to include all human rights – not just the right an education but to a career, the right to choose her own husband, to go to university, and she travelled the world with her message. She received awards everywhere and ended up getting a share of the Nobel Peace Prize, the youngest Nobel laureate in history. She’s had a film made of her life, and she’s every young girl’s heroine, I think.
I have two teenage grandchildren. They’re incredibly beautiful, quite cheeky, quite naughty, quite charming. I’ve said to their parents in the past, “You better watch out, these two are going to be trouble for you later on.” But actually, I was wrong – they’re gold dust. They’re our hope for the future. And their models are Malala and Greta.
Greta, 17, climate activist from Sweden who faced down the corporate chieftains at the World Economic Forum in Davos earlier this year, challenging them to get their act together and go green before it’s too late. She the same thing to the political figures of the world a few months earlier, bringing her message to the United Nations Climate Action Summit.
These two are models for the new generation and they give me hope. If one day you read of mass protests outside schools in south London, you’ll know that my granddaughter Scarlet has organised something, following Greta’s example. Good for her.
I asked Google, was this a trend? And Google told me there are thousands of young girls campaigning in this sort of way. Opinionistas, all of them, changing the way the rest of us think.
My two granddaughters have appointed themselves as guardians of my morality. They make sure I say the correct thing – if they hear me utter anything they think is racist or sexist, or even too right wing, they jump on me like little terrier dogs and punish me. And they’re pretty strict. I’m quite frightened sitting with them sometimes, but it has certainly changed the way I behave and the way I speak. And good for them.
So congratulate your young girls, tell them to encourage other people to be like them, for they are the only signs of hope that I can see in this gloomy time.