The timing is strange, the intention is unclear and the Federal President’s current proposal to have young people perform compulsory social service raises many questions – at least that’s what our editor thinks.

Do you remember the last time you consciously heard anything from our Federal President in the past two years? There wasn’t much, right – and that’s not a bad thing. A Federal President should wisely support, represent, shake hands and award awards in the background. And please leave populism to the party representatives. Frank-Walter Steinmeier actually always did that in a pleasantly relaxed manner. Until now. With his demand for the introduction of compulsory social service for young people, the SPD politician has started a discussion that he cannot please.

This is a suggestion that has come up again and again in the past, at least since the suspension of compulsory military service. Usually, however, when there were just a few other political problems. A typical summer slump topic, with which one could quite certainly win over a few undecided voters from the over 40 group whose youth was long enough ago that the young people seemed sufficiently hedonistic and selfish to them. Drill them into a little social conscience, let them work “properly” (for really little money), show that life isn’t just fun? Sounds good?

Steinmeier wants to prepare young people for “real life”.

But it’s not good. For many reasons. One of the most important is that with compulsory social service, it can be assumed that the young people have to look after other people – be they children, the elderly, the sick or people with disabilities – and nobody from any of these groups wants to be looked after by an unskilled worker , who may simply not feel any desire or real motivation for this task. Under these circumstances, it can also not be assumed that an 18-year-old who was “condemned” to such a job will do this job really well.

Anyone who needs supervision, care or everyday support usually wants someone who has been professionally trained to do it and who takes on this task because it suits them and because they have a genuine interest in social commitment. Nobody who is already in a vulnerable situation and needs help would want to become a social studies teacher, mentor or simply the guinea pig of an unwilling young person.

Didn’t the young people show enough consideration?

And then the timing of Steinmeier’s proposal is very irritating. Why does someone have the feeling now of all times that today’s youth are not socially committed enough? Hardly anyone has had to cut back more than the young people over the past two years – and they have done it in an exemplary manner. No parties, no birthday parties, no hanging out with friends. Alternating classes in freezing cold classrooms or online classes in a country where the internet is still seen as a gimmick. While some adults staged wearing a mask in the supermarket as a personal end of the world, young people hardly complained about all their (real) victims during the pandemic.

And beyond that: anyone who thinks young people don’t care about social justice has probably never seen a “Fridays For Future” demo. Oh, but yes … that has nothing to do with “social”, right, aren’t they these “climate nutcases”? If you think so, consider how social it is to leave the next generation with a world where climate catastrophe could make living a mere survival. So who has a lack of social feeling here? And beyond that, young people get involved socially as a matter of course – but not in the way that many representatives of the older generations would like. Young people gender, for example, not because they have to, but out of respect. They do not judge the sexual orientation, appearance or gender identity of others – but they do judge intolerance and inconsiderateness.

“Good” and “bad” social commitment

Also: Anyone who felt called to get involved socially, ecologically or culturally in the past could already do so with a corresponding voluntary year. Expanding the offerings here would certainly be a good idea. Better remuneration would certainly make the decision easier for many young people – because not everyone has wealthy parents who can not only support their offspring financially through training or studies, but can also provide an additional year of board, lodging and maintenance. In any case, such voluntary offers attract young people who are actually interested in such a commitment. And they may actually decide to work in the social sector afterwards.

Which brings us to what is perhaps the most important point: professions in the social sector. Where do you even start? The jobs that young people are supposed to do are certainly important jobs that need staff. Trained staff. And yes, there is certainly an enormous shortage of skilled workers in the entire social sector – but this could be quickly remedied if people in the appropriate positions finally campaigned for massively better pay and working time regulations and staff ratios that could not be leveraged. Nowhere is savings made as rigorously and unscrupulously as in hospitals, kindergartens and nursing homes. Can we really accept that as a society? Just shrug your shoulders and resignedly hum something about “social market economy”? Aren’t we all the ones who need a crash course in social conscience?

Either way, the young people are not. They do enough. Leave her alone.