Zoe is a blogger for Psychology Today (PT), and each week we’ll be sharing her PT blog posts here. Enjoy!

In February, I gave a talk to 650 students at the Illinois Mathematics and Science Academy (IMSA), a publicly-funded 10th-12th-grade learning laboratory, whose graduates represent a Who’s Who of tech company founders and leaders in business, education, and science.

My goal was to help these students understand the importance of acquiring the skills to become solutionaries who are dedicated to identifying and solving systemic challenges and building a healthier and more just world for people, animals, and the environment.

At one point, I asked them to raise their hands if they ever felt despair or hopelessness about the future of the world. About half of their hands went up.

To be honest, I was surprised that more hands weren’t raised, because of an experience I’d had several years earlier with a group of 5th and 6th graders.

I had asked that group of middle school students to tell me what they thought the biggest problems in the world were, and I filled up a whiteboard with their concerns. I was surprised by how much some of these ten- and eleven-year-olds knew. One boy said, “sex trafficking.”

Then I asked them to raise their hands if they could imagine us solving the problems they’d listed, and of the forty-five children in the room, only five hands went up.

I thought: If these young people can’t even imagine us solving the problems they named, what will motivate them to try?

psychology today