Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
January 15, 2001
Adults should ask children's questions
It is appropriate that we begin the New Year and millennium with the feast of the innocents.
It's like starting from scratch and trying to do it right this time.
Children ask all the important questions. We might do well to listen attentively. They are still full of wonder about the mysteries of this world. Why is the sky blue? How big is the universe? Where did I come from?
All the important questions about life and death, dreams and reality, joy, pain, matter and spirit, magic, meaning, fairness and a host of contradictions are constantly generated by the child's fertile mind.
Adults cannot always answer the penetrating "Why?" that hopes to make sense out of puzzling life situations.
As grown-ups we have learned to accept conventions, we've learned how to compromise and we've been conditioned to stop asking embarrassing questions. So we plod along, closing our eyes and our minds to the unacceptable, and accepting the unfolding of the universe as inevitable.
"God knows why," we might say, as we stumble across another mystery. By and large, we wish not to be bothered by any inquiry that might upset our equilibrium. Our cherished concepts of what life is all about might have to be overhauled.
Children, however, are inquisitive. They want to know and they look upon grown-ups as the authorities with all the answers.
Because the young are malleable and trusting, we run the risk of shaping them into our image. We fill the child with our prejudices, dogmas, suspicions, fears, and misconceptions and soon the wonder is driven out of the child as it learns to fit in.
Herod was not the first or last authority to order the slaughter of children. In our own lifetime we have heard testimonies that children are being abused, maimed and discarded in various parts of the world.
Last summer, Lloyd Axworthy presided over an international conference that examined the growing phenomenon of child soldiers who are forced to commit atrocities in the service of some adult ambition, greed or ideology.
In our own lifetime we have also heard the passionate defence of the inalienable rights of children as outlined in the UN charter. Bishop Thomas Gumbleton and others speak for children in Iraq who are constantly at risk because of an embargo enforced by daily bombing from England and the U.S. NGOs like Pax Christi had to resort to civil disobedience to bring assistance to these children.
Craig Kielburger and his Free the Children Society brings attention to thousands of children bonded to sweatshop slavery.
Father Shay Cullen writes from the Philippines how the children of the poor are forced into prostitution. His courageous defence of the rights of children has resulted in false charges from foreign pedophiles and threats to his life.
Al Gerwing of Rainbow of Hope for Children has written a book and a play about the struggles and hopes of street children in Brazil. His advocacy has brought about two vocational centres financed by Canadians to give street youth a chance to redeem lost innocence.
In our own country, we are haunted by the images of gas sniffing Innu children and reports of increasing child poverty.
"Almost everywhere," writes David Ranson of New Internationalist, "growing up has come to mark the start of a deadly race to consume at all costs. It often begins nearer to infancy than it should and for the most part it means submitting to the dismal regulation of joyless work."
To regain our own innocence, we might have to ask more often with the children of this world: "Why?"
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