OPINION – The views expressed in this piece are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the publication’s standing

OTTAWA, Ontario,–

Tragedy struck Wednesday morning on Parliament Hill in the Canadian Capital.

Two gunmen, suspected to be acting in conspiracy, opened fire on government officials. The first stood in front of the Canadian war memorial and fatally shot the guard standing there. The second opened fire minutes later in Parliament, targeting government officials.

CNN reported that the two were linked to radical Islam, commenting that “troubled young men” are often drawn into such extremism.

As the Canadian and U.S. governments search for ties with terrorist organizations, the rest of us are left wondering how a young life can take such a tragic turn. How can young people with such apparent talent and intelligence use those skills to inflict pain when they could use them to love their community?

Young people have incredible opportunities to make a difference for good, yet we often pass them by. However, our culture often underestimates the potential of youth.

What comes to mind when we hear the words “troubled young man”? For that matter, what do we think when we hear “young person?” Most likely whatever it is that we are thinking of right now has some sort of negative connotation. Why is this?

As a student and young professional, I cope every day with the question of what a person can do in their early years to make a difference.

A few years ago, Gresham, Oregon natives Alex and Brett Harris

National War Memorial, Elgin St, Ottawa

National War Memorial, Elgin St, Ottawa

wrote a book entitled Do Hard Things.  This book was a call to action for youth, a call to live our lives sold out to God.  Along with this book, they hosted numerous conferences all across the country spreading the same call. And the results have been incredible. They have reached tens if not hundreds of thousands of people. In 2008 they reached over 16,000 people through the conferences alone.

More importantly, their efforts have encouraged a movement of youth to live a life of passion and purpose.

The best thing that anyone can do is to encourage the young people in their lives to live with a purpose and find fulfillment in helping people around them. The troubled young men of today are often little more than young people who lacked a purpose yesterday.

When a life seems devoid of meaning, human nature demands that we find something, anything, to fill the vacuum. For some, that means acting out for attention, abusing alcohol, drugs, sex, or addiction. For a few, it means turning to violence. This is the tragedy that we can all avoid if we invest in the lives of those around us.

The satisfaction of doing good while leading a responsible life is the best safeguard against turning to destructive outlets later in life. When young people see the incredible joy that comes from meeting the needs of others, they will be far better equipped to meet needs for themselves.

We all know young people who could use inspiration to move beyond the cultural quagmire that so many are stuck in. You can probably even think of a few specific people right now that need this message.

Young people need someone to challenge them, and adults hold enormous sway over the decisions that youth make. You, as a parent or an adult, can make a significant impact in the lives of young people you know.

This can be done in many ways, an accountability time, a Bible study, or some other venue.  It is often as simple as a word of encouragement or an invitation to help make a difference.

Facts are still coming out about the suspects in Ottawa. Like so many young terrorists, they are searching desperately for purpose to fill the void of a troubled life. Imagine what might have been if someone had encouraged them early on. Imagine what their talents and gifts could accomplish used for good instead of evil.

What comes to mind when we hear the words “troubled young person?” A problem, or an opportunity?

Luke Douglas is a third-year law student, seminary student, professional political activist, syndicated opinion columnist, and in-demand speaker. He holds a Bachelors degree in communications. Contact him for consulting in campaigns, nonprofit organizations and fundraising.