Bless the children for they are the light
They are the truth of spirit in flight
–From Celine Dion’s song Prayer
These sentiments (a staple, it seems for songwriters and poets) always made me uncomfortable as a child. I felt alternately empowered and intimidated.
Intimidated, because how on God’s green earth was I (I took many things very personally as a child) going to fix all the things that needed fixing in this world. Especially if the (as I saw them) all-powerful grown-ups hadn’t been able to do it, how could I?
Who needs that much pressure?
Later, as an adolescent, then even more so as a young adult, the way certain people would talk actually made me feel “past my prime.” At age 18, I was distinctly aware I was no longer in the group of children-with-unlimited-potential. I was just another person. For a (very short) while I even felt sad that I’d somehow “missed my chance.”
I’ve come to see this view of children as flawed in several ways
- It is vaguely heretical (“They are the light/ They are the truth…”)
- It illogically expects a new product from the same assembly line
- It creates the feeling (conscious or not) that we adults are better than any previous generation because we will finally create the perfect environment to raise up these little messiahs.
After all, what happened to our shot as saving the world? Why haven’t generations of children before us done all that needs to be done?
The answer: “We/They weren’t allowed/empowered/equipped enough to do it,” reveals our formerly unadvertised sense of superiority. “They will succeed,” the voices say, “Because we are different. We won’t trample their divine spark, but fan it into flame.”
The idea that our children will save us, or our world, puts them in a messianic role. It assumes they have some inherent power. The Celine Dion song is full of poetical talk of a hurting earth and the purity of children, portraying “children” as a spiritual group. It allows/gives adults both an inferiority complex an inflated sense of their own value/abilities.
Inferiority because of what I mentioned feeling as a young adult: being usurped, past my time to do great things, condemned (as it were) to being ordinary, and stuck in the flow of events, unable to create change. (Whatever happened to “Be the change you wish to see in the world”? )
But more than that I tend to see these cries of excellence and potential as yet another form of self-exultation. Consciously or not, this sort of talk is claiming that we of the grown-up generation are the best. The best because we, of all the parents/mentors of history, will be able to provide the proper environment and guidance that will enable the upcoming generation to solve the problems that have plagued the world until this era.
Halleluiah, now that the children have finally been brought up right, their innate purity will now spill over to the world and fix it all.
That, of course assumes the environment is the problem, and that those brought up in that same environment can both recognize and overcome that environment while, hmmm, other children need the right environment to make change.
Can we say humanism? Man is the problem and Man is the solution.
As long as we look to Man for the solution we will be disappointed. As long as we expect any one pocket of humanity to improve enough to rescue us (be that children, or the government, or the Church) we will be disappointed. If 5,000-20,000 years of repetition (depending on your best-guess about the beginning of the human race) hasn’t shown you yet, let me point-out: Our efforts aren’t working.
Yes, individuals can make a great difference in their own spheres of influence. I think God gives gifts and empowers these people who make big changes. And I agree that there are children tragically robbed of their potential in many ways, and that we should do all we can to help them.
But I also think we should be doing that for the widow across the street and the Wendy’s employee downtown. Because of their inherent value and potential as human beings created in the image of God. Not because they’ll inflate our sense of self-worth or redeem a chance we think we missed.