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
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 right
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.
Here, you might ask: What 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” 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 in isolation. 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—and of love.
My mother, Kim, in the 1950s, and actress Audrey Hepburn
These essays are humbly dedicated to the memory of two women who loved children: My mother and Audrey Hepburn, who was 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
Text © by Chris Maser, 2009; Photo of Camille Giangioppi courtesy of her mother, Martine Giangioppi. All Rights Reserved.
Posted in CHILDREN DESERVE A VOICE IN THEIR FUTURE | Tags: biodiversity, children, commons, economic exploitation, economic profits, ecosystem, environment, environmental crisis, environmental education, fear, global warming, land-use planning, natural resources, nature, peace, politics, society, sustainability, understanding fear, women