COLUMN: The wisdom of youth, the burden of potential
North Dakota, I'm falling for you.
In a literal sense, with the assistance of gravity and ice and a particularly innocuous section of parking lot.
Now, as I nurse an aching elbow, I reflect for a moment on the alleged passing of the season, a rumor which I am beginning to suspect is false.
Change seems slow to come here. For a moment, the snows were melting, and would the mud be washed away there might be room for green to grow. Now, we've more snow, a fresh suggestion to go back to bed.
I adopted a puppy a few weeks before Christmas. It was sort of a spur-of-the-moment decision, which are always the best sorts of decisions, particularly when choosing a years-long commitment. Pet ownership is certainly rife with challenges—it can be as precarious nurturing a young pup as it can be, well, crossing a parking lot in the snow, but the responsibility helps highlight one's shortcomings.
I never realized how much of a couch potato I'd become until I found myself in the company of a being who simply does not understand the appeal of being a layabout. Confronted with a need to jump and run and demolish household furnishings, I find myself reminded of my better nature. In the unvarnished eyes of youth lies the greatest of all powers—the power of potential.
That potential is in my care, and it is entirely my responsibility to bring forth that potential. Even in a puppy, whose greatest life ambition will be to sleep on a front porch, there is much that must be done to ensure that the pup grows into a dignified creature who can be a part of our community.
Moments of selfishness can be punished by a pleading whine. Certainly I don't need to be checking my emails a third time in 10 minutes. Certainly I should be playing tug-of-war instead of checking the weather. Certainly I should be attentive to the life I have with me then to be fretting about lives far removed. Certainly I should be present, eager and curious—all things inherent in a child.
In Taoism, the ancient tradition of China, the child is a sacred thing. All life stems forth from a single causeway, and to that causeway that life returns, ever-flowing. Those freshly born still glisten with the dew of the divine—they are closer to a holy state than the old men, crumbling apart as they stray further and further from the Tao, obsessed with politics and profits and the schemes of life.
It is so that many wise men have pointed to the example that children set—their simplicity, innocence and at times uncompromising sense of right and wrong. What children lack is context, a knowledge of society and the world around them, an assemblage of previously discovered knowledge that will enable them to go through this world informed and capable of rationally making decisions even in the face of uncertainty.
This is the purpose of an education. It is the purpose for why you teach your dog its name, it is the purpose for why you teach your son to read—or to shoot.
Today, I find a cadre of individuals looking down on the actions of children. Children who, being eager, present and curious—have discovered to their horror that their lives are in jeopardy, despite the seemingly endless burden of security measures that engulf them. Children who, despite being told that they should trust adults, found themselves let down by those very same adults they were expected to trust.
Betrayed in such a way, do you really find it questionable for these same children to object? As my dog objects to being placed in his cage, our students object to the very same and worse—to be made targets and props, to be manipulated and endangered, of course they would cry out. Anyone would! Their rights are eroded and still they are not safe. They're surrounded by cameras and armed security and their anxieties only continue to grow. They cry out 'I don't like this' and who are we to insist that the more bitter the medicine, the better the cure?
Do not be so quick to dismiss the wisdom of youth. Many learned men will come, with numbers and figures, impressive displays and grandiose words, and they will tell you to pay the children no heed, for they know not of what they speak. They know not what they want.
Well of course they don't. They are children. They want the adults to take care of them, they want the people they were told would protect them to actually honor that trust. They want a future.
I don't care if you encourage your kids or discourage them to participate in walkouts, past or future. I don't really care if you don't agree with the reasons behind these walkouts, or if you choose to simply ignore the context yourself, so you can criticize a child or a football player for exercising their constitutional rights. Do as thou wilt.
Yet do not delude yourself into thinking that there is nothing to be learned from children. They are as the grass beneath the freshly fallen snow—for a season, obscured, nestled and unseen, but soon even this treacherous ice will thaw and the sun will shine again. When it does, I hope the old snow knows well enough to melt away and let the flowers grow—or risk the entire garden withering away.