The Wisdom of Children

children

Our children are precious. Yet this week we saw and heard children being used as pawns for political purposes. Despite the outrage of the majority of Americans, others seem to think such a ploy is acceptable.

We usually talk about wisdom as something we gain through maturity. The young are often considered foolish and uninformed. But if you pay attention to children, you will discover that they possess wisdom which escapes us adults. Do you remember Hans Christian Anderson’s story, The Emperor’s New Clothes?

It’s not just a story. Over the years, we may come to believe nonsense with which we are constantly bombarded or which we want to believe for various reasons. Sometimes children’s questions can seem embarrassing.  We have customs which prevent us from asking children’s questions or even thinking of them. “Why did Grandpa die?” or “Why is that boy’s skin a different color than mine?” or “Why do I have to wear clothes but our dog doesn’t?’

It’s not just their questions. Children share their observations as well. They often notice when adults act in ways they are told are not right. “That mother is yelling at her daughter. I thought people were not supposed to yell at each other.” They notice when people are different from them. “That man doesn’t have any hair.” They see what we miss or take for granted. “I just saw that bird pick up a worm with its mouth and eat it alive.”

Children have easy access to fantasy life. They can take on roles and be a character without the least discomfort or unease. “You be the prince and I’ll be the princess.”   They can imagine having unlimited powers and believe it for the moment. “I’m king of the world. You have to do what I say.” They can imagine taking different shapes and not just at Halloween. “I’m a fish and can live underwater.”

In play, a child can be a mommy, daddy, grandparent, doctor or astronaut. It is almost as if they leave their own identity behind for the moment and try on a new one. They can be a good guy, a bad guy, very smart or dumb.

Children remind us that in our fantasy life we can experience whatever we want to without limitation. Children can love others without reservation. They can be very open about what they see, hear, feel or just imagine. They can do all these things alone, with each other or with an adult who is willing to set aside “reality” for the moment.

Children can notice what we miss, imagine possibilities which elude adults or try on roles which adults dismiss as silly. Adults tend to become set in their ways as they age. They often become cynical and dismissive of childhood creativity. They see children’s imaginary exploits as, well, childish.

You may have heard of the suggestion to try looking at life with a child’s mind–no preconceptions, no prejudice, and no rejection of unexplored possibilities. You can learn to think this way by watching children at play. Better yet, get down on the floor and play with them. If you have that opportunity count yourself lucky and blessed to have the opportunity to enter the world of childhood wonder if even for a few moments.

 

 

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My Review of Madeleine Albright’s Book Fascism: A Warning

UN Flags

I have known about Fascism for quite a while. When I opened this book I realized that I did not quite understand what it was, where it came from or its dangers to democratic society. Fortunately, Albright answered all these questions for me including her caution about the implications of Fascism for our future.

She described it as a form of authoritarian rule which includes total control by the leader of a country, appeal to ultra­nationalism, and power being centered in the leader rather than lying with the citizens. She described Mussolini as taking large sums of money from banks and corporations while feigning concern about the working class. He put on a show for people, distributed and sold personal products under his name, was a good politician but had very little understanding of diplomacy, rejected input from his advisors and saw his own judgment as the only correct one. She also described Hitler as answering questions with lies meant to reassure the public, thinking and saying that being a Barbarian was honorable, removing civil servants he saw as not loyal, taking control of the arts and journalism, using mass media (radio in those days) to capture attention of the masses and making persecution of those who could not defend themselves seem like national self defense.

Albright also discussed the nature and exploits of a variety of other Fascist leaning leaders including Chavez, Erdogan, Putin, and the Kim dynasty. Last but not least comes Trump who has showed most of the characteristics and antics previously used by Mussolini and Hitler. Trump accepts bullying, autocracy and civil rights violations by autocratic leaders without comment. He appears more comfortable with them than with our traditional allies with whom he tends to pick fights.

Albright sees Fascists and Fascist leaning leaders as invoking “America (or any other country) First” as a way of justifying their tendency to do whatever they please. They feel entitled to do what they want for no legitimate reason or just make one up with no foundation. She sees their unpredictability as a personality trait rather than as a strategy to accomplish anything productive.

How do they gain power? Fascist leaders appeal emotionally to people who feel disenfranchised from what they feel is owed them or those who feel afraid of others, often ethnic or political groups differing from theirs. Although this fervor is fanned by social media, it existed long before computers and spread through personal appearances and the use of more traditional media.

What can we do? We can learn to ask pointed questions of those who claim to be acting in our best interest. We also need to reconnect with each other, understand each other’s fears and sense of loss as well as starting to work together as individuals and society to address these concerns. Once we ask them the right questions, we can elect leaders who will act responsibly.

I highly recommend this book as a way to understand the real challenges which face us and to help us learn to listen to each other to find mutually acceptable ways of approaching our challenges.

Review by Joseph G. Langen, Ph.D., author of From Violence to Peace 

 

 

 

 

 

Review of Hohn Meachum’s “The Soul of America”

Review of The Soul of America

By

John Meachum

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 My worst fear lately has been that this country is crumbling. Opposite factions seem to be pulling our society apart at the seams and I wonder what, if anything, will be left of us when it is all over. I started reading Meachum’s book with trepidation, fearing that it would make me feel even worse about our eventual fate. Remarkably, I did not feel the same way by the time I finished the book. Our country has been here before and yet survived.

I tended to think of our initial settlers and the statesmen who founded and tended our nation in its infancy. I imagined them as being of one mind, hopefully with the best interests of our country foremost in their minds. I guess I should not have been surprised to be reminded how different various factions were and remain so to the present day.

I think of the leaders who brought out the best in the expression of our national soul. Machum lays out for us that not one of them was of a single purpose. Each of them felt a need to compromise to some extent on issues which divided the nation in order to accomplish anything at all. These leaders were human after all and also represented people with many different beliefs and priorities. Bringing everyone together was a monumental challenge to our past leaders and some did a better job than others at bridging the divide.

In the end, our soul is not cut of one cloth but is rather a patchwork quilt of widely disparate energies often pulling the nation in opposite and contradictory directions. For the most part, many of those with strong opinions had the welfare of our nation in mind along with their own deeply seated beliefs. Yet they often disagreed on how to best bring the nation together.

Trump is only mentioned once in the book. Yet our current age and the state of our soul has us pulling in many contradictory directions yet again. We don’t currently agree on what is best for us or on how to get to a point where we can agree on the direction we should take from here.

One glaring example is the issue of racial equality versus white supremacy. This tension has hounded us from the early days of the American experiment. We have certainly made strides toward equality but fear and prejudice have continued to pull us apart. We still have quite a bit of work to do to become one nation making up the soul of America. We have been at this stressful point of tension many times before and somehow have brought ourselves back from the abyss. We need to discover a way to once again come together in our common interest. This is the challenge which faces us all in these trying times.

Review by Joseph G. Langen 6/5/2018