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The ultimate test of human conscience may be the willingness to sacrifice something today for future generations whose words of thanks will not be heard. — Gaylord Nelson


GIVING CHILDREN A VOICE

Instruction for Adults

There is a proverb among the South Sea Islanders that states:  It takes a village to raise a child. This maxim holds a truth that extends well beyond the village. Namely, for a village to be a healthy, it requires a unifying factor to integrate the myriad interactive components into a functional whole. And that unifying factor is the villager's focus on the children.

Camille Giangioppi

If, for example, we were to ask ourselves what it would take to design a community that would make children happy, we would find ourselves engaging the whole of the environment. This is a self-evident truth when one considers that every interactive system requires a unifying center around which it turns. Moreover, for life, human or otherwise, to have any measure of good quality, the basic components of the global commons must be given the highest priority:  from clear air, to pure water, healthy oceans, fertile soils and healthy food, to parents who are psychologically mature enough to be loving, to asking their children what kind of future they want their parents—as trustees—to protect for them as a legacy from one generation to the next. What, you might ask, do you mean by the "global commons?"

The "commons" is that part of the world and universe that is every person's birthright. There are two kinds of commons. Some are gifts of Nature, such as clean air, pure water, fertile soil, a rainbow, northern lights, a beautiful sunset, or a tree growing in the middle of a village; others are the collective product of human creativity, such as the town well from which everyone draws water.

The commons is the "hidden economy, everywhere present but rarely noticed," writes author Jonathan Rowe. It provides the basic ecological and social support systems of life and well-being. It's the vast realm of our shared heritage, which we typically use free of toll or price. Air, water, and soil; sunlight and warmth; wind and stars; mountains and oceans; languages and cultures; knowledge and wisdom; peace and quiet; sharing and community; joy and sorrow; and the genetic building blocks of life—these are all aspects of the commons.

A commons has an intrinsic quality of just being there, without formal rules of conduct. People are free to breathe the air, drink the water, and share life's experiences without a contract, without paying a royalty, without needing to ask permission. As such, a commons engages people in the wholeness of themselves and in community. It fosters the most genuine of human emotions and stimulates interpersonal relationships in order to share the experience, which enhances its enjoyment and archives its memory.

We humans have jointly inherited the commons, which is more basic to our lives and well-being than either the market or the state. We are "temporary possessors and life renters," wrote British economist and philosopher Edmund Burke, and we "should not think it amongst [our] rights to cut off the entail, or commit waste on the inheritance."

This latter point is critical because children have an intuitive wisdom with respect to sharing the commons, like we once had as children, but which we have forgotten in becoming adults. In essence, we have lost our way in a hurry, worry, and competitive materialistic world of clashing ideologies and power-hungry ideologues waging war against one another in order to "control" the circumstances—a physical impossibility. It's thus increasingly clear to me that a society of adults in such a world has little or no real appetite for social-environmental sustainability. Without a firm commitment to social-environmental sustainability, however, no society has a viable context within which to greet the children it brings into the world—much less nurture them.

To nurture children, we must have an atmosphere of social-environmental harmony based on social-environmental equality, which translates into social-environmental justice, which translates into social-environmental sustainability. Here the linchpin is social-environmental justice, which, by its very nature, asserts that we owe something to each and every person who shares the planet with us, both those present and those yet unborn. In this context, all we have to give of real value to one another—ever—are love, trust, respect, and wisdom gleaned from our experiences, each of which is embodied in the ramifications of every decision that gives birth to an option we pass forward.

Each person—whether child or adult—has a gift to give, and each gift is unique to that person and critical to the social-environmental whole. All gifts are equal and different. What is true for individual human beings is true for cultures and societies because each is equal in its service to the Earth. Each life, each culture, each society is equally important to the evolutionary success of our planet, whether we understand it or not. Each also has its own excellence and cannot be compared to any other. All differences among people, cultures, and societies are just that—differences. The hierarchies or judgmental levels of value are human constructs that have little or nothing to do with reality. Every life, culture, and society is a practice in evolution, and each is equal before the impartiality of Nature. Although cultural values may change with time, basic human values do not appear to do so.

And it's exactly because options embody all we have to give the children of today, tomorrow, and beyond, that social-environmental justice, in the form of basic human values, must necessarily form the context of human equality. In this sense, a decision in the present always represents a circumstance in the future, and if the decision—wherein children have no voice—bodes ill, that decision is analogous to taxation without representation, which countermands everything our democracy is reputed to stand for.

Human equality, however, demands one of the scarcest resources we have—our willingness to listen to one another as psychologically mature adults and equals, but most particularly as psychologically mature adults to children, who are allowed to be children, but nevertheless taken seriously when they speak. Not listening is an act of violence because it is a purposeful way of invalidating the feelings—the very existence—of another person. Everyone needs to be heard and validated as a human being because sharing is the bond of relationship that makes us "real" to ourselves and gives us meaning in the greater context of the Universe. We simply cannot find meaning out of relationship with one another. Therefore, only when I have first validated another person through listening, as an act of love, can that person, adult or child, really hear what I am saying. Only then can I share another's truth. Only then can my gift of ideas touch receptive ears.

Ryan was in the third grade when I visited his class.

I say this because, as I look around the world today, I realize evermore clearly that all we have in the world of real value as human beings is one another, and all we have to give one another is one another. We are each our own gift to one another and to the world, but we cannot give our gifts if there is no one to receive them, if there is no one to hear. Therefore, if we listen—really listen—to one another and validate one another's feelings, even if we don't agree with them, we can begin to resolve our differences before they become disputes and thereby share with one another what we each have to give—the gift of personal knowledge. The gift of knowledge has certain requirements, not all of which are followed:


THE GREAT AMERICAN IRONY


The direction in which education starts a man [person] will determine his [her] future life. — Plato, 'The Republic'


The great American irony is that our children do not have the First Amendment Right of "free speech" because we adults neither ask them what they want us, the trustees of their future, to leave for them nor do we listen when they try to tell us. Moreover, we handicap them further by teaching them in the negative, so even if we listen to them and take seriously what they say, they can not tell us what they want—only what they don't want. I would therefore add a second scarce resource: namely, learning to think in the positive.

Instead of educating young people in terms of positive human values (civility; peaceful cooperation and coordination; social-environmental harmony, equality, justice, and sustainability; and how to think positively and creatively), children are being increasingly educating in the negative (to be individualistic and strongly competitive—even combative, to be acquisitive and ever-more materialistic). And by the fourth grade, most children are no longer taught how to think, but rather what to think—all the while we adults create the social-environmental problems that we expect them to solve because we are increasingly incapable of doing so.

To help illustrate this point in my 2004 book The Perpetual Consequences of Fear and Violence: Rethinking the Future, I turned to Connie Anderson's fourth-grade class at Harding Elementary School in Corvallis, Oregon, for the counsel of her 25 students. knowledge


FIRST I ASKED THE CHILDREN WHAT THEY WANTED

I visited Connie's class and inquired of the children—as I have inquired of children for years—if anyone had ever asked them what they wanted their world to be like when they grew up. Although the children represented several nationalities, races, and religious backgrounds, their unified answer was a resounding "No! " Note:  I have never had a child answer "Yes" to this question!

Next, I asked them what they wanted us, the adults, to leave for them. Although the discussion was instantly lively, mostly because of a few out-going boys, the children could not answer my question because the only way they knew how to think was in the negative—to try and move away from what they did not want. For example, Grace said, "I want no wars in the world." Trevor responded, "Not being violent." Michael mixed the positive and the negative:  "Peace, but not everybody being 'phony.'"

The children and I then spent time both considering why it is important to focus on the positive and practicing thinking in the positive, which proved relatively easy in the present moment for most of the children, as long as they had positive reinforcement. Their overall response left me with a wonderful feeling of hope because so many of them could switch permanently to positive thinking if they were only taught that way at home, in school, and through their reading materials.

Here, at least, is one thing that could be done for the sake of our children and the future of human society—teaching children to think in the positive. Thinking in the positive is something so big that it would overarch the entire scholastic curriculum from kindergarten through the Ph.D. program. Moreover, it would fundamentally change how we treat one another, our society, and ourselves and thereby change the way we treat the world as a whole. What could human society and the world be like if children—the future leaders—were taught to think in the positive?

Prior to my second visit, the children were asked to write down the things they wanted adults to protect for them and to rank their desires in order of importance. In addition, their statements were to be written in the positive, which all but two or three of the children did. During my second visit, the children and I spent time discussing what they had written. The following are some of the things they told me:

Virtually all the children wanted peace in the world; that was the first priority for roughly half of the class. Peace was closely followed by clean air, clean water, more trees, everyone having enough food and a home, kindness to animals, and wanting extinct animals to live again—although they were not so sure about a return of the dinosaurs. Elise hoped that "everyone is free from slavery, everyone is trustworthy." Lauren wanted everyone to recycle, and Andrea wanted more teachers so the "homeless kids" could learn. Michael wanted more money spent on schools and education, whereas several children wanted "people to be nice to other people" and "all people to be healthy." A few boys were primarily interested in technology, such as "watches that are computers and you can ask for anything you want to eat and get it and it's [also] a phone."

One thing that surprised me was the number of boys and girls who wanted what they called "hover craft." Having no idea of what they were talking about, I asked for clarification and was promptly told what "to hover" means. Acknowledging my adult ignorance, I was informed that "hover craft" were like automobiles that neither touched the ground nor polluted, which I took to mean that we could remove some paved roads and convert the land back to wise agricultural use.

Because the discussions were largely dominated by a few bright boys, I asked Connie to have each child write an essay about what he or she wanted the world to be like when they grew up and had children of their own. Although there were incredibly bright children in Connie's class, some with a wisdom and a farsightedness that was truly astounding, I have found that many children, especially girls, have currents that run deep and are best expressed in private on paper, hence the essays. I have also found, as I mentioned earlier, that by the time children enter the fourth grade, they are not so much being taught how to apply their imaginations through asking relevant questions and sound, critical thinking, but rather are increasingly being taught what to think.

To help get this point across, a copy of each child's essay was given to their parents for safe keeping until its author is old enough to take responsibility for it, at which time it is to be handed over. The essay is to be opened on the day its author has their first child in order for the new parent to see if they have helped create the kind of world described in the essay—the one they wanted as a child for their child.

Unfortunately it was not feasible to have every essay published in my book, so a few were selected to illustrate that the children pretty well covered the major subjects of social-environmental sustainability—relationships, both domestic and international; personal responsibility; people's relationship to the Earth; peace; safety; enough food for people and animals; animal well-being; more fish; recycling; cleaning the Earth; clear air and water; clean sources of energy for clean factories and manufacturing; human health and longevity; endangered species; and more trees planted in a greater variety of "types." I did not, on purpose, correct the few misspellings in these essays because it would have stolen childhood. knowledge


AND THIS IS WHAT THEY SAID

On relationship and personal responsibility, Maryam R. wrote:

If I got to pick what I wanted the future to be like, I would want people to be nice to other people. I want people to be nice and grateful to each other. I would also want people to be cooperative. Cooperative means to work well together. I would really like it if that would happen.

The other thing I would want is for people to help clean up the world. The reason I would want that, is because the world is getting more and more polluted lately. Almost every year people start polluting the world more. Imagine only one person cleaning up all this garbage in the world, that would take about 100 years! My only wish is for people to start cleaning up their own garbage and to stop polluting.


Catalina M. combined peace and relationship in her essay:

I want peace when I have children of my own. I want people to calm down and to be friends with other people from other countries. Peace is having parties together and going to each others houses, kids playing together at school peacefully. That is what I want when I have children of my own.

If I was in charge of the world I would do this to make it come about. I would make people friends by asking them to try to be friends. I would bring one of my friends to my other friend's house. And introduce them to each other and then they can be friends. I could ask all my friends to come to my house and then they can be friends. I could also make people friends at school by asking everybody if they want to play with everybody.


Ellen L. thought peace and animals went together:

When I have children of my own I would like there to be peace everywhere. Peace is a happy quiet feeling, to be a kind, helping, caring person. And when the paper comes out in the morning it would talk about how people in different parts of this world get along. People in this world will get along so we can all live peacefully together. We should all become peaceful and caring.

People should enjoy animals. Some animals help the environment, like slugs and snails. Animals help the air, environment, and people. Fuzzy, cuddly, warm animals like dogs, and cats, make good pets. Fish make good pets to. People and children should enjoy the animals that are still alive. We should care for and love animals.


Michael G. and Elise E. focused on peace:

If I got to chose one thing that I would like to see when I have children of my own it would be peace. I want my children to grow up with peace around them. If the world was all peaceful you would see everybody being kind to each other. You can sort of feel peace. That feeling is wonderful. But to have peace everybody would have to try.

First, everybody will have to be convinced that a peaceful world is a good world. Then, we (meaning the people who want peace) could tell them (meaning the people who don't want peace) that it will help the world a lot and everybody will want to be nice to each other. It will be hard but if everybody works hard the world just might be a peaceful place. I know that peace will make the world a better place. And that is the world I want. Michael G.


If there was peace when I'm older and have kids they probably won't even know what war is. My kids will be happy because they wouldn't worry about stuff happening. A world with peace would be like being in heaven because people will be kind. I hope even if I'm dead there would be peace. My children will be happy they wouldn't have to worry when they go on a plane because people won't crash it into buildings and die. It would be nice it there's peace forever. Peace would help nature live, but it would be okay if they cut down some trees for like my children and other people to use for there house, but they should put more trees in that area.

Peace would make people stay home with there family. You will smell a pretty smell because nature is alive. People will share other toys because peace helped them. Teenagers will be kind instead of egg some peoples houses. If there was peace, Artists will be able to draw a beautiful picture because thing like flowers and buildings won't be recked. Kids will be happy playing on the street playing football or soccer all kinds of sports. Elise E.


Elise C. thought safety and peace were part of each other:

I think that there should be peace throughout the world. There should be happy families because everyone is safe. I really want the world to be safe. All people should be happy. Safe is when you are protected from dangerous things. Like if someone is in a fire thats not safe. Happy is when you are cheerful and jolly. Like if you're having a birthday party you have an excited feeling that means you're happy.

I think that how we can have world peace to happen is we find all the good people gathered together. Meaning all the people that are in the world that are not perfect but they only do something bad by accident. Find all the terrorists and bad people and talk them into being good. If they disagree we will show them that they are more good than there are bad people. They will probably want to change their minds, if not, will compromise with them. There would be peace because everyone is following the Lifelong Guidelines: Truthful, Trustworthy, Listen actively, say no putdowns and do their personal best.


Mitra G. and Taylor R. were mainly concerned that people have enough food:

I would like to have everybody have enough food to eat. So everybody would live longer than they are living today. We would also see more fat on other people. Everybody would know what grapes tast like. You would see people out on the streets being able to eat more food.

We could do this by first having a fundraiser. Then after the fundraiser we would have a tow year food gathering. After that we would use the money to buy more food. Then after that we would have a fundraiser every other year. We could also teach people to grow their own food. If we did this worldwide everybody would have enogh food to eat. Mitra G.


What I want the world to look like when I have children. I want everyone to have food because if you don't have food you can't live and you probably don't want to die. I want the earth to feel safe. I want it to smell clean and look clean. I want it to sound quiet and that the food tastes good.

How can this come about is people working harder like to make food, cook food, try to help save endangered species, keep planting trees, and try to keep clean air. If you want to know how to know how to help then clean up garbage like at the beach, at a school in you neighborhood or at a park. You can ask your friends if they will help and you should recycle. If everyone recycled then the world would be much cleaner and easyer to move around. Taylor R.


Kipp G. was concerned about animal well-being:

When I have children of my own I want them to enjoy animals, study animals, and care of animals. I think we should leave animals alone. And if we do leave them alone, I think they might do something for us. Like maybe they might lead us to a berry that we don't know of and maybe it's an engredience to a medicine that could really help people.

I think if we work together and we go to the president and say to him 'we want the animals we have now and we want to stop hunters from destroying them,' I think we could get his attention and he might do something about it, like stoping the hunters, or putting more animals on the endangered species list.


Both Gyun-Chang N. and Lauren K. wanted clean air and water:

I want the world to have more clean water and more clean air. There is lots of bad air so I want more clean air so we can breathe better air. I want more clean water because them we can have more clean water for the animals and people. If we have more clean water there will be more fish. If there is more clean air people can breathe easier.

It there is more clean air people will be healthier in the future because they will be breathing healther air. I wish there were hovercrafts that go as fast as cars. If there was hovercrafts that go as fast as car there will be less more gas. If there are more clean water there will be twice as much than right now. If there is more clean water people won't have to drink dirty water. Gyun-Chang N.


When I have children I want the world to have clean air and clean water. The air and water would be poision free. In the cities, people would have clean air in their face, no masks. The air taste good and smell good and the water would be clear and taste sweet. The plants would get a lot of clear water in the cities.

You could get this to happen by saying that you have to recycle almost everything. People could take all of the cans and trash out of the rivers, streams, ponds and lakes. Another way would be to filter oil and pollution out of all polluted bodies of water. A way to get the air clean would be to have all factory workers to figure out a way to run the factory using some other fuel, like solar power or a battery. People could try to transport air from the farm lands to the cities, then take the air somewhere that is in space. If people did this, we would have a very clean earth. Lauren K.


Finally, Sebastian L. wanted more trees in the world:

When I grow up I want the world to have a lot of trees. I want the world to smell like Pine and Beech and like all the other many types of trees. When you look around all that you will see is a whole bunch of trees. When you listen carfully you will hear little chattering squirrels and birds and you will even hear the splashing. You will touch all different types of bark and sap. I really think that we can get more trees if we try.

I know that we can get more trees planted but only if we try. It can come about if we start cleaning and start helping mother nature. We can recycle. I know that for every tree we cut down five more are planted in it's place but they are all the same type! one of my classmates said that if we keep planting the same type of tree and a disease comes around all the trees will die. I think that it's a great idea to plant more trees because some are becoming extinct. We can save them if we try.

Mulling over what I learned from the children, it was clear that the unspoken foundation of their thinking was other-centered. They were primarily concerned with the welfare of others and their home planet, which, in a practical sense, is in their own best interest and that of their children in the future.

Here, we adults must ask ourselves if anything the children want is unreasonable, immoral, unethical, impossible to do, or anything more than a choice of how we personally think and behave? If it is possible to fulfill the children's requests, why are so few adults willing to become other-centered and positive in their thinking? Are we so jaded in our view of life that we are no longer capable of a child's wisdom, or is it simply that we choose not to make the effort required to be kind and thoughtful? knowledge


THEN I ASKED THEIR TEACHER WHAT SHE HAD LEARNED

Having heard from the children, I asked Connie to share what she had learned from the above exercise:

I thought it was fine when Chris requested permission to come to my classroom and ask my fourth grade students the following question as a closing part of this book:  "What would you want the world to be like when you're grown up and have children of your own?" When he asked if I would have them write an essay on this subject, I said "Yes" because it would be a different kind of writing assignment, something I'd never thought to have them write about.

After Chris came and talked with them, I had my students write a list of things they would like to see in the world when they are older. When we shared these lists with one another in class, many ideas were stated in the negative. With a little coaching, the children rewrote sentences such as, "There shouldn't be any wars," to say, "There should be peace all over the world." After making a list of positively stated items, I felt my students were ready to write their essays on what they wanted the world be like when they had children of their own.

I was, however, surprised by a number of the essays. Instead of describing a perfect world, many of the students had written persuasive essays on why there should be no war, no polluted rivers, and/or no dirty air. This turned out to be a much harder essay for them to write than I had originally thought. I found, as I talked with them, that they could not see the world as a perfect place. They already had rigid mind-sets as to why things cannot change. By 9 and 10 years of age, we adults have already tainted our children's outlook on life to the point that most cannot view the world through a child's eye and see hope.

Since the completion of this exercise, I have been questioning what we are doing to our children. Have we done them a disservice by introducing them to adult problems at such a young age? After all, we adults have created the problems, yet can't seem to fix them. Why, therefore, should we pass these problems forward to the children and expect them to fix what we cannot?

Maybe we should concentrate on raising our children in a positive atmosphere for as long as possible. Then, when they are older and problems arise, they will have beginner's minds and can see what might be done instead of having to wade through the predetermined, negative mind blocks of their predecessors—us—who created the problems in the first place. Or better yet, why not ask ourselves how we must behave to avoid creating such problems as polluted water and air, and then actually be responsible for our own behavior?

Might this work? I have no idea. What we have been doing for years and years has not been working; so why not try something really new, such as being positive and teaching our children in the positive?

Of course, this means that the books our children read, both in and out of school, must be written in the positive if our children are to learn how to think and live in the positive. But then to write books in the positive, we adults must ourselves learn how to think and behave in the positive—a worthy challenge for the 21st century. To this end, Gaylord Nelson, the Senator from Wisconsin, said:  " The ultimate test of human conscience may be the willingness to sacrifice something today for future generations whose words of thanks will not be heard." And what is the greatest sacrifice we adults can make? The answer is simple—to forego the notion of our adult superiority over children and give them an active voice in decisions that will affect their future. After all, every decision we make—for good or ill—becomes a consequence to which we commit all generations. knowledge


CHANGING OUR ADULT THINKING

And for those of you who think it impossible to change social behavior because "I'm but one person; what can I do?" the answer is always the same:  "I can do something." Ours is not to question the size or value of our individual contributions. Our task in life is simply to give from the essence of who we are. Each gift is unique and valuable. None is more or less important than another, but rather, each complements the other. And each adds a necessary piece to the whole.

With this innocence, as a basis of childhood, how must we teach our children in order that they remember what it means to love and to dream of what could be? If you were to ask biologist Rachel Carson, a kind and exceedingly gentle woman, this is what she would say:

A child's world is fresh and new and beautiful, full of wonder and excitement. It is our misfortune that for most of us that clear-eyed vision, that true instinct for what is beautiful and awe-inspiring is dimmed and even lost before we reach adulthood. If I had influence with the good fairy who is supposed to preside over the christening of all children, I should ask that her gift to each child in the world be a sense of wonder so indestructible that it would last through life, as an unfailing antidote against the boredom and disenchantments of later years, the sterile preoccupations with things that are artificial, and the alienation from the sources of our strengths.

The circumstances we adults pass forward, based as they are on the choices we make, all coalesce to create the circumstances of the future to which our children must be able to respond, a future that could be very bright if we simply followed the "Universal Declaration of Human Rights," given here in abbreviated form (produced by the Minnesota Advocate for Human Rights and the Human Rights Resource Center. Minneapolis, MN.):

The General Assembly [of the United Nations] proclaims this Universal Declaration of Human Rights as a common standard of achievement for all peoples and all nations, to the end that every individual and every organ of society, keeping this Declaration constantly in mind, shall strive by teaching and education to promote respect for these rights and freedoms and by progressive measures, national and international, to secure their universal and effective recognition and observance, both among the peoples of Member States themselves and among peoples of territories under their jurisdiction [emphasis mine].

Article 1:  Right to Equality
Article 2:  Right to Freedom from Discrimination
Article 3:  Right to Life, Liberty, and Personal Security
Article 4:  Right to Freedom from Slavery
Article 5:  Right to Freedom from Torture and Degrading Treatment
Article 6:  Right to Recognition as a Person before the Law
Article 7:  Right to Equality before the Law
Article 8:  Right to Remedy by Competent Tribunal
Article 9:  Right to Freedom from Arbitrary Arrest and Exile
Article 10:  Right to Fair Public Hearing
Article 11:  Right to be Considered Innocent until Proven Guilty
Article 12:  Right to Freedom from Interference with Privacy, Family, Home,
   and Correspondence
Article 13:  Right to Free Movement in and out of the Country
Article 14:  Right to Asylum in other Countries from Persecution
Article 15:  Right to a Nationality and the Freedom to Change it
Article 16:  Right to Marriage and Family
Article 17:  Right to Own Property
Article 18:  Right to Freedom of Belief and Religion
Article 19:  Right to Freedom of Opinion and Information
Article 20:  Right of Peaceful Assembly and Association
Article 21:  Right to Participate in Government and in Free Elections
Article 22:  Right to Social Security
Article 23:  Right to Desirable Work and to Join Trade Unions
Article 24:  Right to Rest and Leisure
Article 25:  Right to Adequate Living Standard
Article 26:  Right to Education
Article 27:  Right to Participate in the Cultural Life of Community
Article 28:  Right to a Social Order that Articulates this Document
Article 29:  Right to fulfill Community Duties Essential to Free and Full
   Development
Article 30:  Right to Freedom from State or Personal Interference in the
   above Rights

Reading the "Universal Declaration of Human Rights," it's clear to me its inception is based on a moral and spiritual foundation—a conscious human quality. In addition to the above declaration, we adults must recognize, accept, and act on the fact that a society, which truly loves its children, would give them a voice in their future by asking them what kind of world they want and protect the children themselves from abuse, as well as protect their birthright—a healthy environment. We are, after all, the trustees of the children's welfare and their future, which makes them the beneficiaries of our decisions and actions.

Before we can truly give children a voice, however, we must treat them with the kindness and respect that allows them to feel safe enough to speak, know they will be heard, and know what they say will be taken seriously. To this end, we adults must make a concerted effort to follow the 1989 United Nations "Convention on the Rights of the Child." This said, however, the United States is one of only two countries that still refuses to ratify the Convention because conservatives in Congress repeatedly worry that its provisions place the rights of children over those of their parents. The "Convention on the Rights of the Child" is given here in abbreviated form (produced by the Minnesota Advocate for Human Rights and the Human Rights Resource Center. Minneapolis, MN.):

Article 1: A child means every human being below the age of eighteen years
    unless under the law applicable to the child, majority [maturity] is attained earlier
Article 2:  Right to Freedom from Discrimination
Article 3:  Right to Protection of Best Interests
Article 4:  State Implements and Protects Child's Rights to the Maximum
   Extent Possible
Article 5:  Respect for Parental Guidance and Developing Capacities
Article 6:  Inherent Right to Life and Development
Article 7:  Right to a Birth Name and a Nationality
Article 8:  Right to Preservation of Identity
Article 9:  Right to Freedom from Unnecessary Separation from Parents
Article 10:  Obligation for Reunification with Family and/or Visitation Rights
   when in the Best Interest of the Child
Article 11:  Right to Freedom from Illegal Transfer Abroad
Article 12:  Right to be Heard in any Judicial and/or Administrative
   Proceedings that Directly or Indirectly Affects the Child
Article 13:  Right to Freedom of Opinion and Expression
Article 14:  Right to Freedom of Thought, Conscience, and Choice of
   Religion
Article 15:  Right to Freedom of Association and Peaceful Assembly
Article 16:  Right to Privacy
Article 17:  Right to Freedom of Information
Article 18:  Right to Parental Recognition of Their Responsibilities, with the
   Aid of the State when Necessary
Article 19:  Right to Protection from Abuse and Neglect
Article 20:  Right to Protection when a Child is without Family
Article 21:  Right of a Child During Adoption to have His or Her Best Interest
   be the Paramount Consideration
Article 22:  Right Right of a Child seeking Refugee Status or Who is
   Considered a Refugee to Receive Protection and Humanitarian
   Aid as Set Forth Within these Articles
Article 23:  Right Right of a Mentally or Physically Disabled Child to a Full
   and Decent Life
Article 24:  Right Right to Health and Health Services
Article 25:  Right Right of a Child under State Protection to have His or Her
   Situation Periodically Reviewed
Article 26:  Right Right to Social Security
Article 27:  Right Right to an Adequate Standard of Living
Article 28 & 29:  Right Right to an Adequate Education
Article 30:  Right to a Cultural Identity
Article 31:  Right to Rest, Leisure, Recreation, and Cultural Activities
Article 32:  Right to Protection from Economic Exploitation and Dangerous
   Labor
Article 33:  Right to Protection from Drug Abuse
Article 34:  Right to Protection from Sexual Exploitation
Article 35 & 36:  Right to Freedom from Slavery and Other Forms of
   Exploitation
Article 37:  Right to Freedom from Torture and Deprivation of Liberty
Article 38:  Right to Protection from Armed Conflicts
Article 39:  Right to Rehabilitative Care
Article 40:  Right to Protection Within the Juvenile Justice System
Article 41:  Respect for Standards Higher then Those Set Forth in this
   Convention of Child Rights
Article 42-54:  Right to the Implementation of the Above Articles

Despite the psychological maturity embodied in the "Universal Declaration of Human Rights" and the "Convention on the Rights of the Child," my experience has been that we never really leave our families, but rather take them with us wherever we go throughout the rest of our lives. In fact, we take not only our families, both emotionally and intellectually, but also our familial-ethnic heritage.

As such, whether we, as individuals, are concerned about future generations depends very much on the way we grew up and the values we learned. Moreover, how we learned to cope with circumstances as children influences how we treat one another as adults. Society is thus as peaceful or combative as we are as individuals.

The more we are drawn toward peace and an optimistic view of the future, the more functional (psychologically healthy) we are. The more we are drawn toward debilitating, destructive conflict, cynicism, and pessimism about the future, the more dysfunctional (psychologically unhealthy) we are.

To change anything in society, therefore, I must first look inward to confront, understand, and change myself. This process of self-evaluation and change puts the battle where it really belongs—within my own heart. As such, my inner struggles are the greatest learning experiences I will ever have. In addition, the greater my understanding of my own behavioral dynamics, of my own unresolved fears and pain, the easier it is for me to understand these dynamics in others and thus introduce compassion and wisdom into how I treat other people and the world around me.

Thus, molded in the family template in an unknown and unknowable Universe, the most consistently pressing existential questions since the dawn of humanity have probably been:  "Who am I? " and "What value do I have in the immensity of the ever-changing, unknown, and unknowable Universe?"

Each person must answer the first question for himself or herself. With respect to the second question, however, I find a more universal answer—namely, my sense of value is derived from caring for and nurture something or someone other than myself, and what could be more important to care for and nurturing than children? That not withstanding, most of us grew up in dysfunctional families, hence the perceived necessity of creating the "Universal Declaration of Human Rights" and the "Convention on the Rights of the Child." Now the question becomes:  How do we break the mold of familial dysfunction that made the "Universal Declaration of Human Rights" and the "Convention on the Rights of the Child" social necessities?

The latter question is today compounded not only because we are a nation facing terrorism but also because we are a nation facing severe spiritual bankruptcy with no "Title Eleven protection. " There is, however, a remedy for this situation—let the young, innocent children of the elementary grades become our spiritual teachers even as we become their material teachers. With this in mind, the following are a few suggestions whereby we adults can improving our practice of familial relationships that create the human web of life:

  • Develop a set of positive, personal values that define who you are to and for yourself, and stick with them.

  • Listen to and obey your own intuitive, conscious self because it is the guidance system of your behavior.

  • Learn to accept other people rather than merely tolerate them because acceptance not only allows others to be who, what, and how they are without residual rancor on your part but also because tolerance is really the repression of emotions that eventually leads to angry outbursts and/or acts of violence. We are, after all, responsible for what we do, regardless of how we feel at the moment.

  • Control your attitude, or it will control you.

  • Whereas the circumstances of your life have influenced who you are, you are responsible for who you become.

  • Do work that is important to you not only because it will likely consume more than a third of your adult life but also because work that serves others creates a sense of fulfillment.

  • Compare yourself to the best you can do, not to the best others can do.

  • It's not what happens to you that matters, but rather what you do about it that counts.

  • Develop both the right and left sides of your brain because that will lead to an improved ability to think, see things in greater perspective, and help you to lead a balanced life.

  • Give freely without any thought of compensation. This means giving for the sake of improving the person you are, not for recognition. Giving anonymously is an easy way to practice giving freely.

  • Many people have helped you in great and small ways to create a fulfilling life. Therefore, say "thank you" and mean it. Remember, people tend to be quick to criticize and slow to praise, so make it a point to acknowledge the efforts of others and reward every act of kindness with an act of kindness, even if it is only a heart-felt "Thank you."

  • Although you cannot make someone love you, you can make yourself lovable.

  • Be humble because there is always some who is cleverer than you. Therefore, if and when the urge for recognition comes over you, remember that you are where you are because of all the others who have gone before you and helped you along the way. Whatever praise comes to you, therefore, is partly theirs.

  • Enjoy conscious simplicity because the more content you are with simple things, the simpler and easier it is for you to be content and feel the joy of life well lived.

  • Take time to reflect on your actions because action without reflection may well cause you to do something in an instant that you will regret for a lifetime. This is but saying that it's a lot easier to act or react in kind than it is to think and respond wisely. In other words, it takes years to build trust but only seconds to destroy it.

  • Think about big ideas because whatever you can imagine that will be helpful to someone else or to the health of the Earth, you can begin to create and experience. We are, after all, what we think!

  • Finally, all we have of real value to give one another, including our children—ever—are choices and some things from which to choose. With every choice we pass forward, we give our children an unconditional gift of our love, our trust, our respect, and the benefit of our experience. Conversely, with each choice we foreclose, we withhold our love, our trust, our respect, and the benefit of our experience.

With the last bullet in mind, David W. Orr listed a few things we adults can and must do for the sake of children, a list I have rephrased in the positive. (David W. Orr. 2001. "Beauty is the Standard. " Resurgence 210:34-37):

  • protect the purity of the air, water, soil, and food from pollution by artificial chemicals whose combined effects are not and cannot be known

  • connect, and if necessary reconnect, children with the soils, forests, grasslands, waterways, plants, and animals that are so vital to their spiritual and material well-being

  • do everything that is humanly possible to protect the children from even a small risk of a future climatic disaster, regardess if it is human-caused or human-exacerbated

  • view renewable, natural resources as value-added to the generations of the future instead of discounting them in order to ignore current problems—and thereby pass them to the children for all generations to come

  • leave children a legacy of beauty and biophysical richness instead of growing ugliness and compounding biophysical impoverishment

  • protect prime agricultural land instead of paving it over with super highways and parking lots or covering it with housing developments, shopping malls, and industrial complexes

  • build and finance more schools than shopping malls and military instillations

  • protect real neighborhoods and communities from the linear mentality that perpetually conceives and implements an ever-expanding transportation system

  • protect enough good-quality open space in which children can safely play, explore, and discover both Nature and themselves

We, at our collective peril, forget what it is like to be a child with a child's infinite imagination of possibilities, hopes, and dreams. While the young belong in body, mind, and spirit to the present and the future, we adults too often cling to the past, the recollection of a time we laboriously drag with us into our perceived present. This "out-datedness" became apparent to me while I was still employed with the Bureau of Land Management, where I saw people in Washington, D.C., repeatedly make unwise decisions because they were based on circumstances as they remembered them from their time as newly emancipated, idealistic professionals in the field a decade or two earlier. This simply points out that we tend to become encrusted in our narrowly perceived "realities" of the present (realities that have often been formulated in an earlier time and different place), which means our sense of responsibility, as it migrates through time, is largely to protect the economic comfort of the status quo for the sake of our own generation. knowledge


GIVING CHILDREN THEIR RIGHTFUL VOICE—A DEMOCRATIC REVOLUTION

We must—for the children's sake, if no other—discard our view of the Earth as a battlefield of subjective competition, where our human "superiority" reigns over that of Nature, where my "superiority" reigns over yours, and where the "superiority" of adults reigns over children. We will all be better off if we instead consider the Earth in terms of complementary efforts in which all gifts are equal—including the innocence and imagination of children. Each, in its own way, is important to the health and well-being of the whole, living system. I say this because life demands inner struggle and tenacity, albeit tempered by outer cooperation and coordination, which continually fits and refits each living thing to its function. Complementary efforts, such as those of between adults, as well as those between adults and children, imply equality among people, and human equality represents the stage upon which hope, dignity, and social-environmental sustainability can reign for all generations.

To accomplish this philosophical revolution requires innovative ways to engage children in the democratic process. The following are some possibilities:


Addressing the School Board

The first thing adults can do to begin the engagement of children in the democratic process is to have members of every school board go into the classrooms and ask the children what they want from their educational experience and why they want it. Have them write essays, and take those essays to the board meetings, where a surprising amount of wisdom can be gleaned from them. Then honor the children by applying that wisdom to their educational curricula.

This is a critical exercise because we adults view education solely from our points of view—increasingly science, math, business, and global competition. Meanwhile, the softer, social aspects of the liberal arts slip farther and farther away, which renders our society evermore competitive—and impersonal, something we can ill afford. I say this because it's imperative for a truly democratic society to be not only well educated but also well balanced in the breath of its knowledge if it is to survive the of trials of time and simultaneously be trusted in the realm of its international diplomacy. Trust, in turn, is earned through honesty, compassion, cooperation, and the willingness to openly share the best our culture has to offer of its humanity. We, however, are rapidly becoming an increasingly unbalanced, secretive, and unilateral society, which gravely endangers our trustworthiness—and so the long-term survival of our democracy.


Interviewing New Teachers

I recently heard of a progressive school in Texas with an enlightened way of interviewing prospective teachers. Each applicant is interviewed by three panels:  one of teachers and school administrators, one of parents, and one of the students who will have the teacher that is hired. I think this is a superb idea because every teacher influences his or her students (for better or worse) throughout their lives and can be instrumental in the life-path a student chooses to follow. I have had a few outstanding teachers in my life, and I am profoundly grateful for every one. possibilities


Creating a Community Vision

I always have children present when I help a community come to grips with a vision of its future desired condition. At times I set up a panel of grandparents, parents, and children so that three generations are represented. Then I have the grandparents tell the audience what the community was like when they were children and what they wanted from it as they grew up. Next, the parents share their feelings, and finally the children tell their grandparents, parents, and the audience how they view the community and what they want from the community.

In one case, the children turned to their parents and told them to stop growing marijuana, which was the community's main, cash crop. They went on to tell their parents that, while they (the children) were being taught to tell the truth, they had to lie to protect their parents and keep them out of jail. Needless to say, the audience, constituted of community members, was very quite.

I then had the audience form small groups, each with at least one child. The groups were to describe their desired future condition for the community. The adults were so impressed by the contribution of the children, they asked the children to present the groups' results to the whole audience, which the children did with a great deal of enthusiasm.

Next, representatives from the various groups were to cooperate in drafting a vision statement that encapsulated the desired future condition. Again, children from each group were delegated to help draft the vision statement for the whole community—a vision statement that is still in effect more than five years since it was drafted.

In another instance, Dr. Dean Button, Director of Program Development, School of Humanities and Social Sciences, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Troy, New York, writes:

Maser recalled, during our interview, that the group was struggling to verbalize their vision of where they wanted to go: "I said, 'Okay, now I want from each of you a one- or two-sentence statement of what you think this all means, what you want you community's future to be like. 'They wrote. Some of them had to write a paragraph, but a vision statement has to be one or two sentences. The challenge is that most adults come from their heads. So, we went around the room and they read their statements, but each one was rejected—until they came to a girl who was a sophomore or junior in high school. (I had told them in the beginning that I wanted some children to participated. I wanted young folks.) When the young woman read her statement—which came straight from here (refers to heart), unadulterated—they all said, 'Yes! That's it!'"

This moment was singled out by several of the participants as one of the most memorable of the entire process. Months later, it was recalled with a mixture of incredulity and pride. Even some of the "old-timers," who expressed impatience with the emphasis paid to "process," had a noticeable shift in energy and enthusiasm when making the recollection.

An official with the Forest Service recalled: "They went through all kinds of gyrations at the meetings—identifying their mission and value systems, those kinds of things. Some of them worked and some of it was probably wasted energy—but the interesting thing is a lot of the stuff in here came from a couple of high-school kids. I was at that meeting, and what came out of those kids was really like a light went on to that committee! Gee! That's what we're really here for! That was of value to me. I thought, man! That's great! When the local kids see what they want out of their landscape—and they live here—not the adults—it's the kids…." possibilities


Resolving conflicts

I have also found that having children participate in the resolution of environmental conflicts tends to have a sobering affect on the adult disputants, who often tell kids in effect:  Do as I say—not as I do. In other words:  It's okay for me to act this way, but not for you to act the same. Thus, the presence of children not only helps the adults to act with greater psychological maturity than they might otherwise consider but also gives the children a voice in the outcome. After all, whatever the future brings, it's the children who must be able to navigate its circumstances—circumstances passed forward as the legacy of the disputants' decisions.

Here, it's good to note that every conflict must end in a shared vision of the future toward which to build if it is to be truly resolved. In this sense, crafting a vision statement prior to the eruption of a conflict, as discussed above, can be thought of, and acts as, preemptive conflict resolution—not only for the adults but also for the children. possibilities


Healing the Land

Whenever I'm asked to help a community come to grips with a vision and a subsequent plan to repair some aspect of its degraded landscape, I have the person in charge contact the community's schoolteachers and get permission for volunteers to visit with the children. Once in the classroom, a volunteer explains to the children what is going on, discusses with them what they want the healed land to look like, and finds out why that is important to them. The children are then asked to write essays (stated in the positive) that will inform the community leaders of what they (the children) want the land to look like when the healing is completed and why that's important to them. In other words, the children are being asked for their counsel with respect to the future condition of their community's landscape, which also represents the possibilities for the children's future.

As with the other visioning processes, the children also participate in deciding what to heal, how, and why. Through the combination of essays and personal participation in the visioning process, as well as the healing itself, the children not only have a voice in the future of their community but also have a vested interest in the physical outcome. In this way, whatever the landscape becomes, it is also partly their gift to the members of the community—present and future, which might someday include their own children. This is truly the practice of inclusive, participatory democracy. possibilities, knowledge



IF YOU WANT TO KNOW MORE, READ:


IF YOU THINK I CAN HELP YOUR GROUP, AGENCY, OR COMMUNITY, PLEASE CONTACT ME



  

Kim Maser and Audrey Hepburn.

This page is humbly dedicated to the memory of two women who loved children: Kim Maser, my mother, and actress Audrey Hepburn, a special ambassador to the United Nations UNICEF fund for children in Latin America and Africa. (The photograph of Audrey Hepburn is © by and courtesy of Gina Luker, to whom I am deeply grateful for permission to use it.)



If knowledge is power, access is empowerment. — Mark R. Hamilton


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Chris Maser
www.chrismaser.com
Corvallis, OR 97330

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