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 of a Child seeking Refugee Status or Who is Considered a Refugee to Receive Protection and Humanitarian
Article 23: Right of a Mentally or Physically Disabled Child to a Full and Decent Life
Article 24: Right to Health and Health Services
Article 25: Right of a Child under State Protection to have His or Her Situation Periodically Reviewed
Article 26: Right to Social Security
Article 27: Right to an Adequate Standard of Living
Articles 28 & 29: 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
Articles 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
Articles 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. “Beauty is the Standard.” Resurgence, 210 (2001):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.
© Chris Maser, 2009. All Rights Reserved.