There May Be Hope for the World

“It’s not our job to toughen our children up to face a cruel and heartless world. It’s our job to raise children who will make the world a little less cruel and heartless.” (L.R. Knost)

Attribution: Donna CameronI don’t have children. When asked why, I usually respond with a line from my favorite David Mamet movie,  State and Main, “I’ve never seen the point of them.”

Yes, that’s a glib answer, but it has the desired effect: widened eyes and no further comment. Sometimes, the inquisitor takes a step or two back from me. I’m okay with that, too.

It’s not that I don’t like children, but I have never felt the need or desire to have any of my own.

All that being said, I am pinning my hopes for the future on the youth of today. We’ve screwed up the world royally. I hope they can fix things before it’s too late.

Some recent examples that give me hope:

A young man from Norwalk, Ohio, Ethan Lindenberger, is in the process of getting vaccinated for all the diseases he should have been protected from as a child. However, his rabidly anti-vax mother refused to allow him to have any vaccinations, claiming they cause brain damage and autism. Ethan has now reached the age where he can make his own medical decisions, and he is initiating the vaccinations that should have been routine in his early childhood: polio, measles, mumps, rubella, hepatitis, chickenpox. He comments: “God knows how I’m still alive,”

His mother is still trying to talk him out of it, claiming that he is merely acting on teenage rebellion. She says his defiance of her on this is an insult and a “slap in the face.”

The NPR story concludes by noting: “While he doesn’t question his mother’s love, Lindenberger said he questions her judgment.”

Here’s another:

Fifth graders at Parker Elementary School in Elk River, Minnesota, started a Kindness Club last year to counter the bullying they were seeing. Student Ady Bollinger, who first suggested the club, said they wanted kids to feel safe in school. They also want to stop bullying and improve self-esteem. The club has initiated several kindness projects: a bucket into which people can drop notes describing acts of kindness they have seen—these are later read during school announcements; a Buddy Bench on the playground where students can sit if they feel alone and want to be invited to play with others. It seems to be working, there is less bullying and students throughout the school are sharing small kindnesses.

There’s nothing special about this little story—and that’s what makes it remarkable. Kindness initiatives like the one at Parker Elementary are happening at schools all over the country. I encounter stories like this almost daily. Kids are concerned about kindness and they’re taking matters into their own hands.

I had the tremendous opportunity and privilege last week to meet with a group of about 30 students from a high school not far from my home. They were part of the school’s “Climate and Culture” Committee and, along with their committee advisor, were looking at how, and why, to spread kindness throughout their school. In the hour I spent with them, I talked briefly about the benefits of kindness, the roadblocks, and the skills we all can cultivate to extend kindness and overcome barriers. Then, we engaged in a wide-ranging conversation, during which I heard some of the wisest observations I’ve encountered in the considerable time I’ve been talking with groups about kindness.

We talked about how kindness is often little things—gestures so small that they may seem meaningless or powerless to make any difference. Things like holding a door, smiling, saying hello, introducing yourself to someone you don’t know, sitting down with someone who appears to be alone. We all agreed that these seemingly small actions do make a difference. But one girl wisely said, “We always talk about how important these things are—and maybe they do matter—but why don’t we see those courtesies in our government leaders?” She went on to talk about the name-calling, the bullying, and the public shaming that’s modeled by so many in government—people who are “supposed to be setting a good example and bringing us all together.”

Others nodded as she added, “When we see their behavior, it’s hard to believe that our little kindnesses can make any difference.”

Several teens commented that being kind felt good and they hoped it was having an impact, but it was hard—it felt risky, and at times it felt “fake.” But they did it anyway.

A few commented on how important it was to hear other students’ stories—to see what hidden challenges they may be facing and not judge them on “surface stuff.”

Some also talked about how the things they say to friends—insults, put-downs, name-calling—aren’t unkind. “That’s just how we talk to one another.” But they also commented that they would never say those things to kids they didn’t know well. They recognize the difference between good-natured banter (even if occasionally profane) and abuse.

The word “courage” came up a lot. They acknowledged that extending kindness is not always easy, and that they risk being rejected, misunderstood, and judged. Think about that for a moment—those are hard at any age, but when you’re a teenager, being rejected, misunderstood, or judged is especially hard. That’s why the courage of these teens inspired me and also filled me with optimism.

I left feeling hopeful for the world. These young people will be entering college soon, then the workplace. I hope they will take with them their enthusiasm, their sense of what’s right and what’s wrong, their recognition that kindness makes a difference, and their courage to exercise kindness.

And I hope in the coming months—as we enter another contentious election season—we will listen to the wisdom of young people, we will think about what behaviors we are modeling for them . . . and we will be willing to learn from them.

“Being considerate of others will take your children further in life than any college degree.” (Marian Wright Edelman)

27 thoughts on “There May Be Hope for the World

  1. I love this post Donna. I too feel hopeful for the future because of the youth of today. I see and hear things everyday that encourage me and actually fill me with excitement. These kids need and deserve our ongoing support, encouragement and praise. I wish the News would devote time each week to telling their stories. And btw, my reasons for not having children are exactly the same as yours.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks, Fransi! I’m especially encouraged by how politically active today’s teens are–and how well-informed and articulate in expressing their opinions. Perhaps that’s one of the few good things that has come out of our current political environment.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Thanks, Donna!
    Your comments about being asked why you don’t have/wank kids is funny–I did not want them for a while, either, and I find it annoying that it’s just an expectation, a foregone conclusion that everybody should want them.
    And I share your hope and optimism when I gather with the younin’s–medical students, in particular. Things really could get better in another generation or so!
    Lastly, you may have already seen this, but it really lifted me this week–two sophomores at an all-boys’ Catholic high school started a HeForShe club. 🙂 Have a great rest of your week, my friend! https://www.washingtonpost.com/lifestyle/2019/03/06/meet-teenagers-who-started-feminist-club-their-all-boys-prep-school/?utm_term=.26ed2bbbe34e

    Liked by 1 person

    • I loved that article, Cathy–and I hadn’t heard about it before. Thanks for including the link. Those boys are a great example of curiosity, empathy, and positive activism. And they’re making a difference. I made the mistake of starting to read the comments, thinking “what’s not to like here?” I’m always surprised (that’s why I rarely read comments on articles or social media). There were some really nasty remarks. When are people going to realize that when they make comments like that, they’re saying more about themselves than about anything or anybody else. I can only feel sorry for people carrying around that much anger and hate.
      You have a great week, too!

      Like

      • Glad you liked it, Donna! Huh, I’m imagining the comments you describe, and the words ‘small-minded’ come to me. And then again, if we are to practice the kindness we preach, we can reframe and ask ourselves, what is it about the story, and about these people and their internal/external milieu, that causes them to react this way? [Thinking face emoji] I’m listening now to _Changing on the Job_ by Jennifer Garvey Berger, on adult development and forms of mind that limit or expand our capacity for perspective-taking. SO interesting, and I bet you’d like it! Have a great weekend! 😀

        Liked by 1 person

  3. I can’t tell you how many times over the past several years, “I’m glad I’m old.” I worry about the future of our world. Of course, Earth will be fine, it’s the human and many animal populations that may not survive. I’m happy to read this stories of hope and wish the younger generations well (as well as I pledge to do what I can to be a good steward of the Earth and do my best to support their efforts). We are also child-free: a condition that suits us just fine, as well as a surprising number of our friends. I’ve just never found young kids all that interesting. If I could have jumped right to having an adult child (as long as they were well-adjusted and successful 🙂 ) I may have done it.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I find myself thinking occasionally that, given the course we are on right now, the world and its non-human inhabitants might be better off without us humans. I’m always amazed when people who have children and grandchildren show so little regard for the well-being of the planet. You’d think they’d want to ensure the safety and survival of their descendants. Color me confused. Thanks, Janis!

      Liked by 1 person

  4. There seems to be the need to re-invent Education. We could do better with teaching a child what he or she needs to know about themselves instead of filling them with false facts of how they should feel as does the teacher.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Pingback: There May Be Hope for the World — A Year of Living Kindly – Create Space

  6. What a fabulous hopeful read. I worked in a shop that had a high proportion of children/student customers and they totally redeemed that demographic for me. It was the adults that proved themselves thoughtless and rude. The teenagers were always courteous and generous in nature. So I too have hope for the generation that will have to look after me in my old age! Although I have also not provided any additions to that future generation, childless by choice 😉 When I was at school, it wasn’t ‘cool’ to be a nice person. I look back and realise there was so much nastiness and division. For no particular reason it seemed. People were just tough. Self-preservation? I was unfortunately on the receiving end of some of that nastiness, it was bullying, but I didn’t recognise it like that or understand the term at that time. I just tried to accept it came from a place of non-understanding and ignorance of the ‘surface stuff’. I completely agree with the student that called out the bad behaviour in our leaders. And I think the mainstream media could play a big part here. Of course that behaviour needs to be shamed and shown. But in equal measure, show us those who are crossing divides, breaking down walls, working together. There is so much good going on too. Our BBC news website is currently running a feature on that very theme and it is so encouraging and heartwarming. Let’s hope! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you for this great comment. I would not like to be a teenager today—the challenges and threats just seem so much bigger than they were when I was young. Those are already hard years, given hormones, growing pains, and general insecurities. Today’s youth have so much to teach us—unfortunately it seems like those who most need to learn from them aren’t willing to listen. Isn’t that always the way! Yes, let’s keep hoping!

      Liked by 1 person

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