As someone who has dedicated himself for over 20 years (if I do say so myself!) to cultivating an ‘open self’ — not so much a self without borders, but one in which we push forever outward our boundaries — on individual and global scales (society itself is a kind of self, not just an amalgam of selves), I was honored to be invited to speak about ‘Childing the World’ at a panel discussion at James Madison University’s Summit Series on Cultivating a Globally Sustainable Self.
I was the last to speak among the thought and change leaders, who came from around the globe. By the time it was my turn, the audience was drifting, and so I did a number of things that seemed to rouse them.
First, I got out from behind the table on which we the panel members were perched, grabbed a portable microphone, jumped down from the stage and put myself at the same level as the audience of a couple of hundred seated around round tables.
Then I asked them, “Who among you considers yourself a ‘child at heart’?”
They sat up straighter, most leaning in now.
About half raised their hands, some immediately, with absolute assurance this is indeed what and whom they are, and some after a bit of hesitation as they mulled this over. And some didn’t even think of raising their hands (one told me afterwards that “life is too stressful for me to be a child at heart anymore”).
I asked one woman, a scholar and prof from England, with a warm smile and a twinkle in her eye to tell me what her notion of a child at heart was: “One who is forever open and curious, one who sees things new and afresh each and every day.”
So beautifully put. Paydirt.
Now I asked those in the audience, nearly all of them with PhDs with a variety of specialities, and many of whom only write highly technical articles for those in their specific micro-disciplines, to imagine that seated at their tables with a contingent of children and youth.
And I asked them to further imagine that they could explain what they do to the youngsters, bringing down their “$50 words” to “50 cent words” but not in any way that diminishes or dilutes what they do by the mere fact of having to explain it in intelligible terms. I told them that them if they had this opportunity, it might do far more than interest children and youth in their field; rather, the children and youth then would be in a position to help them further their work, aims, research interests. Because our youngest frame questions far better than we do, especially foundational questions. And even though they might only have a gazillionth of the knowledge that those with PhDs have in their disciplines, this was no impediment to them being of service (here is one example I came across just as I was writing this).
Okay, so some in the audience looked at me with clear skepticism, and others looked at me like I was wacky — just as many who read this Huffington Post piece of mine on this subject, namely the crying need to populate our offices and research fields with kids thought I was rather loopy; much as those do who don’t buy into my assertion that our youngest citizens deserve greater rights to self-determination, and that our society as a whole would benefit from joining forces with childkind as equals, each with our decided weaknesses and strengths and talents.
But some warmed up to my idea at once, and not just those whom at the outset considered themselves children at heart. The prospect of having kids in their orbit to brighten their day and potentially expand their lenses was a cheery one that overcame any leeriness.
I come by this view I proposed honestly. As anyone who’s read The Philosophy of Childing knows, it was a scintillating Socrates Cafe inquiry with elementary school kids that led me into uncharted ‘childing’ waters and eventually to write this book.
I shared with them a bit about my experiences with children and youth around the world — from Hiroshima and Chiapas to the Mission District of San Francisco to a poorer socioeconomic area in San Antonio – and how transformative it was for me and my fellow adults participating with the kids.
And as I recounted my own experiences, you could tell that it was capturing the imaginations and sense of possibility of more and more on hand. They clapped roundly at the end.
But did I make any impact at all, I fretted, anything of the discernibly concrete sort?
That evening, at dinner, the program organizer, an amazing man and child spirit, Craig Shealy, came up to me and said that at their gathering next year, they were going to invite some children and youth. He told me how some who’d listened to me had come up directly to him at the end of my talk and insisted on it with great animation and enthusiasm.
Needless to say, I can’t wait til next year’s Summit Series. And to see how the children and youth shall lead us down new paths and into new portals, opening up bracing new vistas for human doing and being.