For the past week I have enjoyed listening to Conversations with Myself – a personal memoir of Nelson Mandela’s life, loves, and struggle for freedom. Learning about the interior lives of great people is part of my personal practice to help me keep my compass on True North. I purchase audio books so that I can listen on my way to and from work, on a road trip, or as I do mundane chores at home.
Conversations is filled with Mandela’s personal reflection on the formative times of his life beginning as the eldest son of a tribal chief. He describes the African Veld, the grasslands of his homeland: the blue mountains lining the golden grassland, the hot summers and mild winters with thunderous rain. He spent many hours of his childhood listening to his elders and observing how decisions were made collectively among them. Mandela’s father planned for his son to become chief and marry a woman chosen for him. But when that time came he left for the urban core of South Africa where he studied at university and became an activist, an understudy of prominent social leaders in the movement for freedom.
I was impressed by the dignity of Mandela, how he respected even his enemies and did not judge any man or woman, friend or foe: he stresses that all men and women are human complete with their strengths and weaknesses. He always plays to the strengths, the goodness in everyone he met including his jailors. He was criticized for this by fellow activists who felt he was too forgiving of his enemies.
This morning I was reflecting on something Mandela advises: once you set your mind on a high goal, never waver from it; no matter what happens in your life, stay on course keeping that goal ever before you….I think about him because I gained an emotional sense of this great man listening to the story over these days including a long drive of 7 hours – an immersive experience that will stay with me for some time.
It occurred to me that among us are children like Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King, Jr, Gandhi, Wangari Maathai – who were just ordinary kids. We can all name many across the world whose lives changed entrenched injustices and policies. They made the world a better place to live. They are among us now as children. Therefore we should treat every child as a precious gift, providing safety, love, and encouragement for them for they are the Peacemakers come to make this human world better, safer, more compassionate, enlightened, and just.
Suffer the little children to come unto to me, said Jesus, for theirs is the kingdom of Heaven (Luke18:16).
How we treat our children – and by our I mean all children among us – reflects on our own character and intelligence. Among these are the best of us and so they need to grow up with warmth, clothing, good food, shelter, love, humor, opportunities to learn and develop their God-given talents, and a community’s and nation’s unwavering support and love. How well are we doing? How many potential Peacemakers die too early from starvation or brutality? How many never reach their potential through no fault of their own. What talent, love, creativity are we missing?
There is a wonderful book that I have read and reread many times from Native America, written by T.C. McLuhan: Touch the Earth. In its pages there are beautiful descriptions of the care given to raising children, from womb to adulthood. Many tribal spokespersons describe how much care is given to the choice of words and tone of voice adults use when addressing a pregnant mother or a little child. I highly recommend it to readers of this blog.
Please share your thoughts and feelings about the state of children in America and the world with us on this post if you feel moved to do so.