Man(n)'s Magic Contradictions
British Council Global Changemakers is a network of young social entrepreneurs and community activists from 110 countries worldwide.
It's been quite some time since I read "The Magic Mountain," by Thomas Mann. Yet being in Davos in between the rubbernecking, schmoozing and speculation, one can't help but muse about the process of coming of age, or - as Wikipedia describes it - Man(n)'s exploration of ''art, culture, politics, human frailty, and love'' that he set here.
The fact that the jury is still out on whether Mann wrote the book as a parody or the real deal has particular resonance: Davos is a place of contrasts and contradictions. Huge security and military deployments, magnetometers, bodyguards - and rooms full of rich and powerful individuals calmly eating canapés. The celebration of real dialogue, open conversation, transparency - and one of the most exclusive events in the world. Breaths of fresh air. Incessant noise - and nighttime quiet so powerful that your thoughts play pinball inside your skull. And yes, it is the manifestation of so many varieties of human frailty, as well as strength.
It's been these that have been most on my mind since arriving on Monday because I have the privilege of seeing Davos through the eyes of the Forum's youngest participants, the Global Changemakers. And, like the protagonist Castorp's own coming-of-age journey, Anjali, Dan, Mai, Raquel and Trevor have to continually make sense of the contradictions, recalibrate their views of what the world is, who makes the decisions that affect their lives and what role they themselves play now and in the future. At its core, Davos is about finding sense, identity and core principles amidst the contradictions. For these students, it is figuring out where they end and the world begins. And just how much power and influence an individual can have to drive change.
Maybe what is most powerful is that in a Congress Hall with more than 2,500 of the world's business, media, government and societal leaders, there are five fearless teenagers who already are taking the fate of their communities - and their 3 billion fellow young people on this planet - into their own hands.
That's more than enough for the magic mountain to live up to its billing.
Francesca Martonffy is the director of the British Council Global Changemakers program.
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