We live in a world of our own making. What we’re experiencing right now, our present, is defined by what we choose to believe and what we choose to do with those beliefs from second to second. Turning on the news and watching the tragedies that are unfolding in the world as you read this leads to the sobering realization that we, all of us, are responsible for the state of things. We’re responsible either due to our action or the lack thereof.
I’m not saying there’s not plenty of good out there. Of course there is. Like Mr. Rogers said, all you need to do is look for the people who are helping. There’s way too much bad, though. So much bad that it’s perfectly natural to ask that age-old question, “who would ever want to bring a child into this world?”.
I think the children are going to be the only thing that save us.
Maybe you feel powerless right now. Maybe you feel like there’s nothing you can do to make the world a better place. That feeling couldn’t be any further from the truth. We may be responsible for what’s happening now, but they will define what’s to come. When all of the decisions are left to the adults we brought into the world as children.
If you’re raising a child, teaching a child, or influencing a child, you’re influencing the future already. You’re building their world and the way they see it. With every smile, frown, laugh, scream, hug, or punishment, you’re teaching them the rules of the world, what it takes to get along in it. You’re showing them who they should trust, who they should fear, what they should do and what they should avoid. They’re watching everything you do and absorbing it to build their own identity and world view.
So why can’t we show them something better?
I have two small children, 4 and 6 years old. One neurotypical, and one autistic. They both came into the world blank slates. As they’ve grown I’ve noticed something very important and beautiful about them – they don’t judge. They are currently going through life with no preconceptions and completely open hearts. My youngest will go up to anyone, and I mean absolutely ANYONE. Sometimes that scares the hell out of me, because I obviously have concerns that he may come across someone who may not mean him well. That’s why I watch him like a hawk when we’re out and about. Still, I love the fact that all he wants to do is get to know people. To be friends with them. As an introvert, I have no idea where that comes from. Must be his mother.
As for my other son, the autistic one? He’s takes it to the next level. He doesn’t just want to meet everyone. He wants to HUG everyone. This surprised the hell out of me at first. Common wisdom would say that as someone on the spectrum, he would withdraw from others, live in his own little world. Well, if you’ve met one autistic kid, you’ve met one autistic kid. This child is anything but anti-social, especially when first meeting someone.
Case in point, his mother and grandmother had him and his brother out at the park one day. They were walking along a path surrounding a huge water fountain when they came across a black gentleman sitting on a bench, staring at the water. From what my wife told me, she had noticed him and had thought to herself that he appeared to be very depressed, with a far away look in his eye. As they were walking by, my boy noticed him and wriggled his hand out of his mother’s. Before she could stop him, he ran up to the man, smiled, gave his customary greeting (“Hello there!”) and started hugging him. The man responded with tears in his eyes and a smile on his face. When my wife came up to them, he looked at her and said, “he just made my day.”
Our kids come into the world as blank slates, with no preconceptions or prejudices. Both my boys have taught me that, and I’ve come to the conclusion that the most important thing I will ever do, the best way that I can contribute something positive to the world, is to not screw that up.
We can all do that by swallowing our pride, letting go of our animosity, and helping all our kids hold on to those open hearts. There are those that will say that is a hopeless proposition, that the realities of the world will beat them down and make them hard. I say, only if we let them. Only if we cling so tight to our own worldviews that we shout instead of listen, argue instead of reason, fight instead of love. Both with our children and with others.
When all is said and done, there is one lesson that I pray I’ll be able to impart to my children. One lesson that covers everything they need to know about how to interact with the world and the people who populate it. It’s a wisdom that transcends every nationality, creed, or culture. One that can be found in just about every system of belief in one form or another:
“Treat others the way you want to be treated”.
If we can do that, if they see us do that, then they won’t be learning something new. It will just reinforce that natural instinct they came into the world with.
We all have reasons for believing what we believe, acting the way we act. We have reasons for how we treat people. Whether someone would define those as “good” reasons or “bad” reasons depends entirely on their own life experiences. Those experiences in large part were overseen by their parents, but you can’t just put the responsibility on them alone. Every person they came into contact with influenced them in some way big or small. The people who make the most impact are the ones who reach out with an open hand to lift us, or those who choose to knock us down with a closed one. In this way, they are building the future.
So which one will it be?
Which future do you want your children to build?