In 1889, in the midst of very troubled times, Jose Marti, the poet laureate of Cuba published The Golden Age, a classic book of peaceful stories for adults to read with their children, Marti asked us all to “work for children because children are the ones who know what is needed, because children are the hope of the world."
In today's troubled times there is an urgent need for peace-loving adults to shoulder the responsibilities we all share to guide children and youth to cope with the violence that is exploding all around us. The two main actions we must take may seem almost impossible as we race along our fast-paced information highway but we must act quickly to give our children the support and guidance they need.
The first action “hard as it may be for those of us searching for information and advice “is to turn off the television, the radio, and the internet. Five minutes a day is enough to catch up on any actual news and turning these machines off is a powerful way of standing up and saying “No" to the violent words and images we are being bombarded with.
The second action “again very difficult in our work-oriented and highly scheduled society “is to give up some of our adult work time in order to help children do their work. Children's work is to play. Today and everyday is the day for each of us to free up our busy schedules so that we can volunteer more of our time on the school playground, in our neighbourhood parks, and in our own homes.
Children are desperately searching for simple answers to very difficult questions. The answers they need cannot be found in video games or television programs. The lessons children need to learn about life remain where they have always been and are learned easily by participating in cooperative and creative childhood pastimes from around the world. Pass these lessons on to your children, their classmates, and other kids in the neighbourhood by gathering a few or a bunch together to play your favourite childhood games. Playing those endless variations of tag, skip, hide and seek, hopscotch, dress up, guessing and ball games is the best medicine for melting icy knots of anxiety and taking away headaches and stomach-aches.
Playing and laughing together in an atmosphere of safety, respect and fun is the natural way children heal their hearts and learn skills for connecting with each other and their communities in healthy ways. In a relaxed atmosphere with televisions, radios, and computers turned off, it becomes possible to tune in and listen carefully to the children who look up to us.
Of course, children need answers to their endless questions about the September 11 tragedies and their aftermath. But, listening is even more important than explaining. Giving our full attention with our eyes, ears, and heart to our valued members of the younger generation is the best way of helping them sort out their own understanding of the fragments of information and tangled mess of opinions that are coming at all of us from all sides. Listening respectfully to each of our children is the most powerful way we have to build their strength and resilience. Children who are listened to know they are valuable, capable, and lovable beings with important gifts to offer the world.
The more we can step out of our adult-centred lives to play with and listen fully to our children, the more opportunities we will have to rethink and relearn our priorities. In 1988 Unitarian Minister Robert Fulgham told us that everything we need to know is learned in kindergarten. “Learn some and think some and draw and paint and sing and dance and play and work every day some ... When you go out into the world, watch out for traffic, hold hands and stick together." Our children are the hope of the world and they do know what is needed. They need us.