WHAT CHILDREN KNOW

by
Chris Maser



A 4-year-old child whose next door neighbor was an elderly man who had just lost his wife. When the child saw the man cry, the little boy went over into the man's yard and climbed on top of the man's lap and just sat there. When the boy's mother asked him what he'd said to the neighbor, the little boy said, "Nothing, I just helped him cry."



I remember being invalidated and summarily dismissed as "just a child who knew nothing" whenever I expressed my opinion about what I thought the world ought to be like or how I wanted it to be. But consider for a moment that children—our children—must inherit the world and its environment as we adults leave it for them. Our choices, our generosity or greed, our morality or licentiousness will determine the circumstances they will inherit as their reality.

So why do we adults assume that we know what's best for our children, their children, and their children's children when we're blatantly destroying their world with our blind greed and competitiveness? Why are children never asked what they expect of us, as their caretakers and the trustees of the world they must inherit? Why are they never asked what they want us to leave them in terms of environmental quality and health? Why are they never asked what kinds of choices they'd like to be able to make when they grow up?

Where do we, the adults of the world, get the audacity to assume that we know what's good for our children when all over the world they're being abused at home by parents who are out of control of themselves, are being slaughtered in the streets in the egotistical squabbles of adults, and are being starve to death by adults using the allocation of food for political gain? We don't even know what's good for us. How can we possibly speak for them until we become psychologically mature adults?

It's going to become increasingly important for the society of the future to listen to what today's children say because they are the unequivocal recipients of whatever circumstances we leave—for better or worse. Each generation must therefore be the keeper, the trustee of the next—not its judge. Hence, it's incumbent on us, the adults, to prepare the way for all generations, which will entail changing the way we think about, teach, and practice social-environmental sustainability.

I say this because I spent time in Japan looking at the sustainability of the forests from which the Shinto priests obtain the large, old trees they use to rebuilt the Grand Shrine of Ise every twenty years. Despite the fact that the original forest of Kiso Fukushima is today a plantation does not in any way detract from the Shinto priests' conscious efforts over the last thirteen hundred years to maintain a sustainable forest into the future for the future.

With this kind of thinking, and from my experience with the people of the Grand Shrine of Ise, I'm convinced that humanity and its society can, if it so chooses, begin now to heal the forests of the world. Not only that, but it can also grow old forests for the future. To do so, however, society will need the help of its children.

Children can plant a forest because they don't know what a forest is, how it should look, how it should behave, or what it's good for. Children have minds that are simply open to the wonder of planting the idea of a forest with each tree seedling they tuck into the soil. The forest can then design itself and, in its own time, be true to its nature.

Many adults, on the other hand, such as trained foresters, think they know what a forest is, how it should look, how it should behave, and what it's good for. Having thus lost their sense of wonder, they can only plant trees and call them a forest.

While children plant a forest with their hearts and a beginner's mind, adults too often plant trees with their intellect and the knowledge of an "expert." Ironically, experts can't plant a forest because they've forgotten what children know.

Thus, when the Shinto priests asked my counsel on how to heal their forest, I told them to let their professional foresters plant the trees, which they would do in evenly spaced rows. This was necessary in order to reserve their honor.

Once the rows were established, I told the priests to get primary-school children, give them seedlings, show them how to plant them, and turn the children loose to plant the seedlings wherever they wanted. In that way, the neat rows sown by the adult intellect would be interwoven with the freely planted imagination of the childhood heart. After which, Nature would mediate the forest's design.

Children, not knowing what the answers "should be," can see what the answers might be. To children, all things are possible, until adults—with narrow minds, who've forgotten how to dream—put fences around their imaginations.

We adults, on the other hand, too often think we know what the answers should be and can no longer see what they might be. To us, most things seem to have rigid limits of impossibility within the context of our industrial-conformist-materialistic society because parents, schools, and society at large too often murdered our childhood imaginations. We'd do well, therefore, to consider carefully not only what our children and grandchildren see as possible in the future but also what they want. The future, after all, is theirs.

©chris maser 2006. All rights reserved.

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