I want to say a few words about “Pedophobia”. In case you’re not up on the labeling game, this refers to the irrational fear of – yes, you've guessed it – children. Usually, when I cast my cynical eye over the annual list of new syndromes and disorders, I find myself angered by the intent, amused by the stupidity and saddened by the incredible waste of creative energy. For the most part, however, my emotions are short-lived and I end up dismissing them all for what they really are – potential markets for the “fix-it” industry.
But “Pedophobia” is different. It’s different because, rather than tag young people with something or other, this label is applied to those who have traditionally supported the industry by demanding that “something be done” about uncooperative youth. Now this is absolutely brilliant. Having identified the disease, the industry will, as always, come up with an effective cure and, as always, the health care systems will be obliged to foot the bill. Bingo! With both sides in the bag, and the medics securely in charge, the profits are assured for as long as kids and adults remain disconnected.
"Pedophobia” is also different because, in my opinion, it actually exists and is spreading at an alarming rate. I have no statistical data to support my claim, but wherever I look, from governments, to the media, to the helping professions, to the old lady who lives in 27B, there appears to be growing consensus that kids are a threat to personal security and to society at large. In the dichotomized world of George Bush and Osama Bin Laden, today’s youth are becoming a common enemy, trainee terrorists, insubordinate insurgents, incorrigible infidels. The message is loud and clear – get these kids under control, get them off the streets, teach them to respect authority and, while all this is going on, get them out of sight.
I can understand the concern. Using the same unscientific methodology, my subjective survey also suggests that kids are living up to the billing. I see them everywhere, stirring up trouble in schools and hanging about in public places – entitled, disrespectful, hostile, self-indulgent, apathetic and alienated young people, sneering at the world and demanding everything. On the other side, I see adults, parents and teachers, shying away, buying them off, or moving in with perfunctory gestures of senseless confrontation. Meanwhile, the professionals, who are supposed to have the answers, continue to do what they have always done – try to make everyone happy.
Of course, these are gross generalizations but I have neither the resources nor the inclination to research the topic. What I do know is that, across the supposedly “developed” nations, the number of children and youth identified as being a problem to themselves and others is staggering and ever-increasing. Many academics have argued that, to a large extent, this is symptomatic of social, economic, political and attitudinal circumstances, and this may well be so. But my sense is that these factors are, in themselves, symptoms – indicators of a deeply rooted and highly contagious condition that has become an insidious global epidemic. I am reluctant to give it a name for fear the Eli Lily Corporation will have a cure on the market by next Wednesday. If you want to check it out for yourself, close your eyes, take a full breath and shift your awareness to that deepest place on the inside. If your experience is one of aliveness, optimism and wellbeing, the chances are that you have not been infected. But, if you feel heaviness, unease and a vague sense of foreboding, just know that you are not alone.
I may be reluctant to speculate about your condition, but after working in the field for over half a century, I do have some ideas about what’s wrong with the kids. As a well-versed professional I could go on about birth trauma, attachment disorders, developmental interruptions, family dysfunction and the like but, once again, I would be falling into the trap of attending to symptoms and ignoring the disease.
In 1975, Jean Liedloff, in her book The Continuum Concept, described how even babies know intuitively when things are “right” in their lives, when their primary caregivers are attuned to their immediate needs. The messages are not verbal or cognitive but energetic, experienced through the body and filtered into the developing infant psyche. Alternatively, when something is “not right,” that somatic message is translated cognitively to become the foundation for the child's subsequent beliefs about the world. And, since infants make little or no distinction between internal and external experience, the same message is incorporated into the child's emerging sense of Self. In other words, “if the world ain’t right, then neither am I” – and vice-versa.
Well folks, something is definitely “not right” with the world, and the kids know it. I’m not talking about wars, genocide, repression, famines, diseases and sundry disasters; such tragedies have always been an integral part of our history. I’m referring to a pervasive fear that is seeping into each moment and every facet of our lives – a deeply entrenched knowing that our place on this planet is in serious jeopardy. And with this “inconvenient truth,” our illusions of power and immortality begin to dissolve, along with the ice floes.
In the past, we have been able to assuage our fears by identifying, labeling and declaring war on the perceived sources of our anguish. But now the external enemies are everywhere, many unknown and unseen. In the “good old days,” we were able to draw our resolve, resilience and resources from the strength of our institutions, nations and cultures. But, in our quest for individual “freedom,” we have systematically dismantled these old external authorities and given away their power to whoever wants it the most. At the most basic level, even our most primary institution, the nuclear family, is rapidly becoming an anachronism. In North America, we are close to the point where the majority of children are unwanted, or the product of uncommitted relationships, or both. Somehow, in the name of freedom, we have managed to become our own enemy – a species at war with itself.
Please understand that I’m not arguing for a return to what was, that would be futile. My point is that it’s equally futile to expect our children to comply with the norms, morals and aspirations of a world that no longer exists (if it ever did). By the same token, it’s also pointless for helping professionals to make “social adjustment” a primary goal. In short, we have chosen to reject the old protective and repressive order and replace it with (fill in the blank). Whatever you chose to insert here, the overall outcomes are painfully obvious – emptiness, conflict and fear.
In his book, The Biology of Belief, published in 2005, cellular biologist Bruce Lipton has some interesting things to say about fear. He describes how each individual cell in the human body responds to its environment by adopting one of two distinctive modalities – growth and closure. Growth occurs when the organism remains open to environmental stimuli, but when such influences present a perceive threat, the system shuts down for its own protection. This means that the fears we create effectively cut us off from our life-sustaining energy, our creativity – our human potential. While we can confront and move beyond specific anxieties, constant and pervasive fear systematically pushes the organism toward its most primitive instinctual state of survival.
Such research does not identify the point of no return but I, for one, have no desire to learn this from my own experience. The good news is that, unlike other animals, we humans have a “mind” that can mediate between the external world and internal experience, consciously and unconsciously influencing our own biological systems. The bad news is that we persist in using this “mind” to manufacture fear as a means of avoiding the “truth.”
So what can we say to our children about this state of affairs? How can we explain our growing alienation from each other, a world in turmoil and a planet on the brink of ecological breakdown? If this is their inheritance, then we need to look no further to explain why so many of them are dropping out, shooting up, or simply telling us to go to Hell. In their own way, from infancy through adolescence, they are showing us what we have chosen not to see and, true to form, we resent them for their naive honesty. Rather than look into this unsettling mirror, we have chosen to objectify them as a threat to an order that we ourselves abandoned a long time ago. And, in so doing, we have committed the most incomprehensible crime against nature by holding our kids responsible for the breakdown of our own iconic creations. Is this what we really mean by that tedious cliché – “our children are our future”? If so, then nature has every reason to be rid of us.
Let’s face it, we will never address what’s happening with our children unless we recognize that the illusions and mythologies we have created are no longer sustainable, or even believable. The world is not what we have always wanted it to be – an infinite storehouse of options capable of diverting us from recognizing who we really are and where we fit into the scheme of things. Science, religion, ideology, heroic deeds and noble intentions will not stem the tide of our discontent. Out struggle is not with what’s taking place around us, but with the fears we have created on the inside. Now, as we cower from the prospect of our own extinction, we are confronted by the greatest fear of all – the certainty of our mortality and the transitory nature of our individual lives. And, irony of all ironies, it was our desperate attempts to evade this fear that created the mess in the first place.
Our opportunities for diversion and denial are running out but we still have options. We could continue to sink into fear and helplessness, find someone to blame for our discontent and live in hope that some savior will come along to lead us to back through the gates of paradise – and may the force be with him, or her. Alternatively, we could turn our attention inwards, recognize our inherent humanness and make a last ditch effort to create a place for ourselves as conscious and connected participants in nature’s design. We could cast aside our hubris and pretensions to let our kids know about the uncertainty that unsettles our minds, closes our hearts and fragments the world they are obliged to inherit. The strength they will need is not in doing battle with a hostile universe but in transforming what we have come to define as reality. Their challenge is beyond anything we have ever experienced as a species and, to this end, they will need us as never before.
If we take the first option, we will continue to project our fears outward. And the more we relinquish authority over our own lives, the more we seek to demonstrate our power over the lives of others. In this regard, kids have always been an easy target. In the end, when material wealth, social status and personal power are no longer capable of sustaining our worldly illusions, only the children will be there to offer false assurances of our permanence in the cosmos. What we want from them is not their unique qualities and potentials as human beings but their unquestioning obedience to our lost cause.
Option two involves stepping into the unknown with no preconceived outcomes in mind. This is not so much a matter of faith as an act of courage. No experts or gurus can take us by the hand to lead us through the darkness and back into the light. The true search for humanity can only be conducted by a single Self in connection with a single Other, and the knowledge gained can only be shared through reciprocal authenticity. This isn’t about changing the world, or anything else, it’s about personal transformation, expanded consciousness and global connection, not as an abstract ideal but as a lived-in experience.
The idea that human consciousness is a bona fide ingredient in the cosmic casserole has been around a long time. In psychology it was extrapolated beautifully by Carl Jung and given the scientific nod of approval by the man himself, Albert Einstein. In recent years the proposition that consciousness is as real as matter has found a legitimate location in the science of the “New Physics”. We may not know too much about how global consciousness actually works at this point, but we don’t have time to run endless laboratory tests, collect the necessary data and establish the mathematical proofs. Anyway, this isn’t the realm of science in the traditional sense, it’s the stuff of the human mind – yours and mine.
Perhaps the time has come for us to make up our minds to act on our own behalf. Perhaps we really can explore and share our humanness in ways yet to be recognized. Perhaps we can begin to redefine ourselves as contributors to nature’s purpose rather than consumers of its resources. We may even come to recognize our inherent relatedness as the source of our wellbeing. And if we find the commitment and the courage to step out in this direction, why not invite our children to join us, not as the carriers of our stifled ambitions but as fellow travelers in their own right?
Even so, it could be too late. It could be that nature has already let us go, just as an animal in the wild must choose to abandon an infirm and unresponsive offspring. We have no way of knowing, but this radical and challenging option would at least give us all something to do while we wait for someone to stitch the climate back together, plug the hole in the ozone layer and find out why Brittany Spears decided to shave her head.
I realize these are complex and lofty philosophical thoughts but, for this, I make no apology. By contrast, my own response to this disturbing picture is remarkably simple – in whatever time I have left in this world, my intention is to explore and express my own life to the full through my relationships with those around me. Oddly enough, I also happen to believe this to be the core of child and youth care practice. If we have a future on this planet, let it be in the hands of those who are able to free themselves from the illusions of the past and explore what it means to be fully human in the here and now – however painful.
This wonderfully diverse and unpretentious profession has always offered such an opportunity, for me and for the kids I’ve had the privilege to work with over the years. We are not bound by the rigid boundaries of the old morality. We are not obliged to follow the directions of those who claim to be the guardians of normality. And we can listen respectfully to what the “experts” have to say without coveting their power or becoming their disciples. We are free to be with young people as partners, sharing experiences and recognizing that we also need to grow-up with awareness and self-responsibility. This doesn’t mean we should abandon our obligation to teach, guide, support and say “no” “only that we do these things with humility and always with the unexpressed essence of each young person uppermost in our minds.
In the final analysis, we may not be able to ensure the survival of our species, but in each relationship we create, we can contribute to the unfolding order regardless of our mortal destiny. It’s not about being effective or successful – it’s simply about being, with our Selves and with each Other. And this, as they say, is as good as it gets. In the words of the eminent Canadian philosopher Red Green, “we are all in this thing together.”
Meanwhile, as we go about our work with children and youth, let’s continue to talk to each other about our experiences and discoveries. We can do this face-to-face through our local, national and international gatherings. We have journals eager to document our reflections for anyone who shares our interests and concerns. And, at the broadest level, we have the amazing CYC-Net. May it continue to connect us across the globe for many years to come. We may have many challenges ahead and many fears to confront but one thing is for sure “there is no place on this troubled planet for something called “pedophobia”. But please, let’s not declare war on it.
Liedloff, Jean (1975) The Continuum Concept. New York: Addison-Wesley
Lipton, Bruce (2005) The Biology of Belief. Santa Rosa: Mountain of Love/Elite Books