You really shouldn’t say “I LOVE YOU” unless you mean it. But if you mean it, you should say it a lot. People forget.—Jessica, age 8
All we have to give our children are choices and some things of value from which to choose. With each choice we pass forward, we give the children our love, our trust, our respect, and the benefit of our experience. With each choice we foreclose, we withhold our love, our trust, our respect, and the benefit of our experience.
All we do in life—ever—is practice relationships, some of which form the passive violence we bequeath our children and those of the world. Here it must be understood that we live between two oceans (one of water, the other of air), and each has currents that circumnavigate the globe. If, therefore, we fix all the worldly problems—except clean the air, we will still pollute the entire Earth, from the blue arc of its heavens to the bottom of its deepest sea, in every corner of the globe.
Clean air is the absolute “bottom line” for human survival. Without clean air, there eventually will be no difference in the way we destroy ourselves, either directly through nuclear war or indirectly by air pollution because our biosphere is comprised of interactive components, where one affects the whole and the whole affects the one. If we adults do not clean the air we breathe, then we will commit indirect suicide, and that is our choice. As we commit indirect suicide for ourselves, we simultaneously commit indirect infanticide with respect to virtually all generations of the future, and that, too, is our choice. But is it the choice of the children whose demise we will be responsible for?
The presence of children is critical to the successful governance of planet Earth for several reasons, of which three are primary: (1) creating a shared vision for a sustainable future is preemtive conflict resolution, and adults behave better when children are present, (2) children have an investment in their future, and (3) children represent a different level on the of perception. To this end, I recommend a “Children’s Advisory Council” in the service of adult decision makers, such as all governing bodies in the United States and elsewhere—because children deserve a voice in their future.
A major problem for children in the United States, as I have written in Part 2, is that they do not have the First Amendment right of “free speech.” Here the challenge is that being children, they are simply discounted precisely because they are children. And we adults, having long forgotten what it’s like to be a child, consider them too immature and ignorant to know what they want their future to be like in terms we deem realistic in the sense of being good them, all the while they are starved, humiliated and enslaved (especially girls), as well as beaten, mained, and killed in wars instigated by the psychological/religious insanity of dysfunctional adults.
The other thing adults have forgotten from their own childhood is what it feels like to have the validity of their thoughts continually stifled simply because they are children. And yet, I have found that, when children are intimately involved in the resolution of a conflict or in a visioning process, the adults act with far greater compassion and understanding (read psychological maturity) toward the children’s point of view than they might otherwise do—perhaps remembering what it was like to be a child themselves.
Nevertheless, I have repeatedly found that children know what they want their future to be like, and are happy to be asked, provided the one who asks really listens. Moreover, I have found that every, basic human requirement—such as peace for all, love for all, enough food for all, an education for all, beauty for all, and so on—is paramount to the children. Here are four examples from Part 2. The children were in the fourth grade at the time they wrote these essays for me:
“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.” Maryam R.
“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.
“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.
“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.
AN ADVISORY COUNCIL OF CHILDREN
If you are wondering why anyone would convene a group of diverse, young children to give counsel to adults, the answer is simple. As a child, whatever opinion I dared to share with most adults, including my father, was summarily dismissed just because I was just a child who obviously could never have a valid opinion about much of anything, which included what I wanted any part of the world to be like when I grew up. I was often dismissed in public, which made me feel inconsequential, rejected, and discounted out of hand, for no other reason than being a child. And because I sounded childish, I was often told, with some impatience, to “grow up,” as though being a child was not okay. I find the situation much the same today in our harried society.
Knowing how this feels, I once asked a third-grade teacher, before I spoke to his class about forests, if he had ever asked the students what they wanted out of life or school, or, more importantly, what they wanted their forests to be like when they grew up, because that’s what I was there to visit with the children about. He said: “No.” He then asked his eleven-year-old daughter if anyone had ever asked her what she wanted in life, and she also said: “No.”
What has become clear to me over the years is that children in these United States (or anywhere else I’ve been in the world, for that matter) do not have First Amendment rights—the right of free speech, which includes the right to be heard.
With the right of free speech and the right to be heard in mind, I have in recent years worked with grade-school children to help me understand what kind of future they want us, today’s adults, to leave for them as our bequest, our legacy. I have had them draw pictures and explain in writing what kind of forest they want and what they want it for. I have had them write essays on the kind of world they want when they are adults and have their first child. I have had them make lists of the attributes they want in their future. And I have had discussions with them to find out how they see the world today. The following is a brief list of some of the things they want us, the trustees of their world, to leave for them. As the beneficiaries of our thoughts, decisions, and actions, the children want the following:
Is there anything unreasonable in the above list? Is there anything impossible to achieve if we adults were to act in a way that was psychologically mature? After all, growing old is inevitable, but growing up is optional. Is there anything in the list that we ourselves would not like to experience in our daily lives? Is there anything that has not been sought through the ages? The German poet Johann von Goethe said it well: “All truly wise thoughts have been thought already thousands of times; but to make them truly ours, we must think them over again honestly, til they take root in our personal experience.”
Because I find the children’s desires reasonable, responsible, and just plain common sense, representing, as they inevitably do, the other-centered inclusivity with which we are all endowed before it is stolen from us by adult conditioning, I recommend that we not only give children their rightful voice but also that we actually listen and pay heed to what the say. I would tell the children that the world needs their dreams, so they must hold fast to them because only in that way can children speak on behalf of children—those present and those yet unborn—to help guide the caretaking of our home planet on matters that concern today’s children, matters that will be critical to the generations to come.
Another, equally critical reason to convene a Council of Children is to advise our elected officials—all of them, and thereby keep adults in touch with the march of time and its changing circumstances and social values. I say this because three things happen to us as we age:
First: 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 “outdatedness” 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, e.g., “non-declining, even flow” of timber to the mill—a concept once touted by the U.S. Forest Service, but that in practice would strip a forest of all its usable trees, at which time the “flow” would cease.
Second: We forget how to ask questions that are truly relevant in the present for the present and the future. If we are going to ask relevant and intelligent questions about the future of our home planet and our place in the scheme of things, we must understand and accept that most of the questions we ask deal with social values that cannot be answered through scientific investigation. Nevertheless, scientific inquiry can help elucidate the outcome of decisions based on these values and must be so employed. In addition, we would be wise to accept the gift of Zen and approach the caretaking of our world with the beginner’s mind of a child—a mind simply open to the wonders and mysteries of the Universe.
A beginner sees what the answers might be and knows not what they should be; whereas an expert “knows” what the answers should be, yet can no longer see what they might be. Children, as beginners, are free to explore and to discover and so hear questions in a different context than do adults who think themselves enlightened through knowledge. Children hear questions in the context of multiple realities and infinite possibilities. When determining what question to ask, therefore, it is critical to listen to what the children say because they represent that which is to come. To them, all things are possible until adults with narrow minds, who have 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, but can no longer see what they might be, a circumstance brought about because our imaginations were long ago stifled by parents, schools, and the corporate-political instruction of what “reality” is. We therefore tend to become encrusted in a self-created prison of a single pet reality, with is self-limited possibilities. This adult reality is so constricted in potential outcomes that it often turns into an obsession to be protected at any cost. We would do well, under this circumstance, to consider carefully what the children envision as possible and what they want. The future, after all, is theirs.
That said, if we are going to ask truly wise questions about how best to care for the world we must live in, we would do well to be open to multiple hypotheses and explanations and be willing to accept a challenge to our ideas in the spirit of learning, rather than as an invitation to combat. The greatest triumphs in science are not, after all, triumphs of facts but rather triumphs of new ways of seeing, thinking, perceiving, and asking questions. To nurture our environment as a biological living trust, we must learn to accept our ignorance and trust our intuition, while doubting our knowledge. This reversal of our adult training requires the help of children.
Third: We, as adults and parents, think we know what is good for our children, but we do so strictly from our increasingly busy adult perspective with all of its acquired baggage from growing up and the current pressures of facing an ever-more competitive world, one we tend to perpetuate. To break this cycle of relegating children to the background of life in the name of competitive necessity, we must invite them to participate in planning and evaluating the care we take of the world they will inherit. In this way, real continuity will be maintained as the baton of caretaking the biological living trust—planet Earth—is passed from one generation of trustees to the next.
To form a Council of Children as fairly and representatively as possible, it would have to have an equal number of boys and girls, and all ethnic backgrounds would have to be represented as equally as possible. Children selected for the Council would have to be from the Inner City, as well as rural and suburban areas. They would come from families in all walks of life and all regions of our nation, including towns along lake and ocean shores, the mountains, prairies, deserts, the snow-covered reaches of Alaska and the Pacific isle of Hawaii.
To get the best possible representation of the children’s collective voice, it would be necessary to visit different areas of our nation with the expressed purpose of interviewing children about what they want us, the trustees of their future, to leave for them. In addition, a new Council of Children would have to be appointed at intervals to keep their voices fresh and current; maximize their ability to be heard by adults who are often too busy and preoccupied to listen to them, no matter how sincerely, how wisely, or how loudly they speak, and to keep the vision of how we caretake our shared environment alive and vital.
I detected nothing in the hopes of children that we adults cannot bequeath them as our legacy, if we so choose. And it is only a choice, but one we seem unwilling to make. Part of the reason for our reticence may be where we stand on the stairs of perception.
THE STAIRS OF PERCEPTION
To best help you understand what I mean by “the stairs of perception,” I will repeat a conversation I have many years ago with Ken Gordon, the processor in charge of my master’s degree.
What the arrival of the chain saw meant to the forests I loved really came home to me in 1963 as I worked on my Master’s Thesis, for which I studied red tree mice, whose populations were constantly decimated by clear-cut logging. The destruction of their habitat was particularly painful because I had grown to love the little, red mice so very much. In fact, each time my research necessitated killing one of them, I’d lock myself in my office and cry almost uncontrollably during and after the whole process. Once again the unrelenting grief of continual loss knocked at the door to my heart.
Keenly aware of my grief, I went to the only person with whom I could discuss it—Dr. Kenneth L. Gordon.
Ken was an exceedingly gentle man of tremendous artistic talent in writing, drawing, wood carving, and photography, in addition to which he exhibited boundless creativity in his pursuit of natural history. Moreover, he, too, suffered from the same grief that I did. But it was his philosophy of minimal, ethical disturbance of Nature, his gentleness with all things living, and his deep regard for the living spirit he saw in all things that still influences me, an influence that began with my barging into his office one day in a blind rage over the destruction of a forest wherein I was studying a population of red tree mice.
Telling me to close his office door, he motioned me to sit while he tapped the spent tobacco out of his ever-present pipe, refilled, and lighted it. He then regarded me for a long, silent moment, as though making up his mind about something.
“Chris,” he said, “you’ll find in life that most people are so busy with their day-to-day affairs they scarcely notice anything else. I came here to Oregon in 1926. It was much more peaceful then with far fewer people. In fact, I think I drove every road in the state within a decade. I’ve seen a lot of destruction of the state within these past thirty-seven years [it was now early 1963]. That’s why I started photographing what I call ‘The Passing Scene.’ It’s my way of remembering the part of my life that’s fading into history, never to return. Creating an archive of visual memories is my way of softening my grief.”
“Doc,” I interrupt his slow, methodical speech because—as impolite as it was—experience had taught me that Ken was easily sidetracked into examining hitherto unexplored, mental rabbit trails, “what are you getting at?”
“Well,” he continued, “like me, you’ll see much that you love disappear in your lifetime before this modern notion of ‘progress.’ And, like me in my youth, you’ll feel powerless to stop it. In fact, I came west when I graduated from Cornell with my Ph.D. because I loved the open country. I wanted to get away from the destruction I saw on the East Coast. But I couldn’t get away from it. It’s here too!”
“How,” I interrupted, “did you even know about the openness of the West if you were at Cornell?”
“Because I was raised in Fort Collins, Colorado. Anyway, I’ve found that anger and force net only despair. You’ve got to examine your feelings, and then go through them to reach the rational logic that will tell you what to do.”
“How,” I ask impatiently, “do I know when I’ve reached this ‘rational logic’ of which you speak?”
Ken went to the small blackboard on his office wall, picked up a piece of chalk, and drew the simple depiction of stairs. Pointing to the top step, he drew a horizontal line outward from it and said: “This was Oregon as I saw it in the late twenties and early thirties, and to me that was the optimum.”
“Okay,” I ventured, “but I was born in 1938 and gained my perception of Oregon at its optimum in my teens and early twenties as I wandered the trails of the Coast and Cascade Mountains, as well as the high-desert steppe east of the Cascades. But now I find most of the places I loved already falling to the roar of chain saws.”
Ken regarded me for an instant. Then went down two steps to 1950 and drew another horizontal line: “This is when your perception of Oregon began to emerge.” Drawing a third horizontal line outward from another step down (1960), he continued, “This is when you really began to notice the changes taking place. It is part of the human condition to notice change at intervals. If you love Nature and the natural world around you, then you have the sensation of descending the stairs from top to bottom, with each step a loss of something cherished. But, if your interest in life is tied to something like technology, then you ascend the stairs with each new invention, such as the chain saw. In the end, the desirability of a given change is based on one’s perception of the circumstance that precipitated the change.”
“Ken, this is quite clear,” I said with some frustration in my voice, “but how will I know when I’ve reached this ‘rational logic’ you speak of?”
“You’ll feel it; it’s an intuitive sense of harmony with what’s right, with what will work. For instance, did you ever consider that most people don’t even know the consequences they cause in and to Nature simply because they’re uninformed. They’re not bad people; they’re just ignorant. Not stupid—ignorant! Remember, scientists tend to write for and speak to one another; they’ve scant interest in informing the public. Perhaps that is something you could do—educate the public.”
“When the time’s right, you’ll know what to do and how to do it. But first, you have to learn the basics. You have to pay your dues before you can speak. So, back to your studies!”
Ken always saw something to which others were blind. He saw the spiritual laws that lay behind all science and technology, the spiritual laws that underpinned the Universe. And in his quiet way, he planted in my mind, heart, and soul the seeds of his vision that I might one day see what he saw, a truly spiritual world.
Today, more than forty-five years after this conversation took place, I well understand what Ken meant about the “stairs of perception.” For example, I felicitated the beginnings of a resolution to quell a brewing conflict over the use of a river that was drying up in the summer. The conflict, in part, was between long-time residents, who remembered what the river had been like in years past, when the human population had been far less that it is today, and the newcomers who were not only causing the human population to swell but also demanding more water from the already-troubled river. Added to this was a county encouraging growth in order to garner more taxes, which only added fuel to the simmering emotions.
As part of facilitation process, I convened a panel, as I have done in the past, with adults and young people. This particular panel, however, had all adults and a single teenaged boy.
I opened to panel by asking the participants to tell the audience how they “felt” about what was happening to the river—their river. As each adult spoke in turn about the terrible sense of loss at the river’s decline in volume of water, loss of habitat for salmon, loss of remembered beauty, and on and on, they were each descending the stairs of perception—from what they had deemed perfection to the ongoing destruction of that which they loved.
When it became the teenage boy’s turn, the audience was in for a surprise. This boy had been in trouble with the law and had been in detention for some time. He was, however, allowed to work on a restoration project in the river as part of his “rehabilitation.” He began by saying that he couldn’t understand why the adults were all so pessimistic, when the river was showing such good signs of recovery over the last couple of years that he had work on it. The audience sat in a momentary, stunned silence.
Here was a youngster without the historical memories of the adults, which came across to him as “unnecessary baggage,” telling them of the positive changes he was seeing in the river’s condition. Because he—without a personal, historical perspective—was going up the stairs of perception as the river changed, he failed to understand the adults’ apparent misery. Why, he wondered, could they not see the positive changes? Why were they so stuck in their sense of loss and grief, when the good changes were so obvious?
Thus, as the adults descended the stairs of perception due to a sense of continual loss, the teenage boy was ascending those same stair, but from a sense of gain toward some future condition that he would someday deem optimum—in part, because he had helped to create it. Because the future belongs to the young, it’s imperative that the young are represented in all major decision affecting the cirumstances of their future with a voice equal to that of the adults. After all, the young will inherit what the adults leave—for better or worse. And the young have neither voice nor choice in the outcome unless it is purposefully, consciously given to them as a “First Amendment Right” of participation through the freedom to speak, be respectfully listened to, and be truly heard. Only in this way can those descending the stairs of perception meet those ascending the stairs so that past and future can inform the present for the benefit of all.
© Chris Maser, 2009. All Rights Reserved.