I Believe the Children are our Future

My sister and brother-in-law have been contemplating a move for some time.  One of the main matters of contention, and a very valid question, has been where will they move to if they do move?  One of the issues that has been weighing on my sisters mind more than my brother-in-law's is the potential ethnic demographic of whichever place they decide to move to.  Currently they live in a big city in which every neighbourhood is ethnically diverse. The vast majority of the children that make up my nephew's classes at school come from mixed ethnically backgrounds.  There isn't an ethnic norm because everyone is different.   Recently my 7-year-old nephew approached my sister and asked whether a decision had been made as to whether they were moving or not.  When my sister told him that she was indecisive because there was the potential for them to move to a place where everyone would look the same except for my nephew and his brother and sister my seven-year-old nephew's response was that looks don't matter.  

I've mentioned several times that my sisters and I grew up in a community where we were basically the only black kids.  Whilst our childhood was hardly traumatic we did learn, eventually, as everybody does, that even though looks shouldn't matter, to a lot of people they do.   But my sister didn't tell my nephew this.  She didn't warn him that to other people his looking different to everybody else might be a problem.  She didn't say anything because, as naive as the sentiment may be, it is also very wise and the hope is that if my nephew can continue believing looks don't matter and the other kids he meets continue to believe the same things and adults don't come along and tell them otherwise then maybe, eventually, we can enter a world where looks really don't matter to anyone.  Or maybe now I'm being naive. 

The other day I was listening to a Ted podcast on NPR about the power of optimism.   The podcast features a TedTalk by an American public school teacher named John Hunter who in 1978 created what he calls the "World Peace Game".  This game began as one simple 4x4 plywood board and has evolved to a multi-layered plexiglass system.  Around the board seat the complex parliamentary systems of four fictional countries - the parliaments are made up by the students - and upon the board are all the problems of our modern world.  The game deals with war, money, poverty, random acts of God, ethnicity, global warming... if it is a world problem then the game deals with it.  In order for the students – the 4th Grade, nine-year-old students – to win the game they have to solve fifty world problems and each country, both the poor and weak and the rich and powerful, must increase in monetary value.  The kids always manage to win the game.  But the point isn't even about winning or losing, the point is about the discussions and getting the children to learn diplomacy and compassion and the realties of warfare in a way that you can only learn through living it.  If the kids can take the skills they learn from this class and apply it to their business ethics as adults then there is hope for us.


Ten years ago Al Gore gave a TedTalk on global warming where he basically laid all every which way in which we are destroying our world with global warming.  The outlook looked bleak.  Ten years later we are smashing the goal set in place for renewable energy and even China is getting on board to join the pursuit of clean energy.  We have exceeded our own expectations.  Al Gore, in his most recent TedTalk uses the case of the American moon mission as his reason for optimism.  During his term in the White House President Kennedy stated that he wanted to land a man on the moon and bring him back successfully within ten years.  Most of the adults at the time were skeptical and said it was a waste of US resources to pursue such an endeavour but eight years later Neil Armstrong landed on the moon.  The average age of those working in NASA at the time was 26. That means that whilst their parents were busy scoffing at President Kennedy eighteen-year-olds were figuring out how they could make this dream a realty.  In other words, whilst some adults are still unconvinced global warming is even a thing, their children are busy figuring out ways to reduce the damage we have already caused and prevent doing more damage than necessary.

I recently finished reading "Go Set A Watchman" by Harper Lee, it's a kind of sequel to her classic "To Kill A Mockingbird".  I'll leave no spoilers here except to say that I didn't enjoy it.  It just wasn't a well structured book and felt very unfinished, which I found out later that it probably was.  But one of the harder pills I had to swallow was the charge in Atticus Finch, the white Southern lawyer who defended the one-armed black man in the rape case in "To Kill A Mockingbird".  At the end of "Go Set A Watchman" it's clear that Atticus may have been "revolutionary" for his time but his thinking is decidedly flawed.  In the end he had inadvertently taught his daughter Scout to be better than he is. The future through his eyes is bleak but the future through hers is hopeful.

Millennials have a bit of a bad rep.   I should know, I am one, kind of.  Maybe I'm more of Gen-Y as I just missed the 90s birthdate.  Millennials are apparently impatient, have a minute attention span and can be found catching Pokemon on our phones and avoiding gluten like the plague.  But Millennials are also changing the world for the better.  Millennials are building electric cars and innovative waste disposal units.  Millennials are building business relationships in developing countries instead of just handing out cash to ease our consciences.  Millennials are not voting for Trump or for Brexit or for any other bigoted politician you throw our way.

Sometimes I see what is happening in the world and I can be led to despair but then I watch kids playing or have a conversation with my niece and nephews and hope begins to flood back in.