Raffiis a person of large dreams. They are dreams I wishwe all had, focusing on compassion and joy and sharing. And amongthemis the dreamthat one day, wewill have a society thathonourschildren.
« Not a child-centred society,’’ Raffi points out. « But a child-honouring society.’’
For 20 years, he has been singingsongs to childrenacrossNorthAmerica, and I know no one whotakes more unreservedpleasure in theirpresence.
I sawit on a recent weekend as wesat on the verandah of a friend’sturn-of-the-century house, overlooking a tributary of the St. John River thatflowspast the tiny village of Gagetown in New Brunswick.
The viewstretchedupstream and down, and at one point, as the three of us weretalking, children on bicycles passedalong the river’sedge– threesmall figures against a panorama of silvery water, marshes, a distant wood, and a blueskydappledwith white clouds. Weweretoo far away to hearwhattheywereshouting; all wecouldhearwasjoy.
Raffistopped in the middle of a sentence to watch and (I canthink of no betterword to describeit) to celebrate. It was as muchpleasure to watchhim as to watch the children. Not a wordwassaid, and after the childrenhadriddenway, weresumedour conversation.
Of course, wedon’thonourchildren in our society, hesays. How couldwe and, at the same time, tolerate a national childpoverty rate of 25 per cent — 36 per cent in Metro Toronto?
« By and large parents love theirchildren. But isour society organized in a waythatfollowsthrough on its promises to children?’’ Hisansweris an emphatic no.
« Betweenwhatwesay and whatwe do thereis a hugecredibility gap that drives childrencrazy.’’ We promise them respect and deliverthem a world which values wealth and power over partnership and participation. Yetit’s in partnership and participation that respect for the individualisexpressed.
Whoamong us does not encourage a child to explore the wonders of nature? « Come smellthisflower,’’ wewillsay. Or, « Look at the prettybird.’’ Yetwetreat nature with a relentlessdisrespect. « Wecannot have a child-honouring society whilewe are degrading the habitat of thisgeneration, and of the generations to come,’’ hesays.
« For me, a sustainable society requires a childwhosecoreidentityisrooted in a conservative bond withEarth and cosmos.’’ A childwhoseeshimself or herself as a partner to all living things in a harmonious, universal, but unpredictableorder. Westunt the ability of children to developthatidentitywhenwedelivercontradictory messages.
The lack of awarenessadults have of the credibility gap theycreate surprises him. « It’scurious to me that I can go to sustainabilityconferences and hearsolittle about children . . . as if adults come into the world ready made at age 21 or 30,’’ hesays.
« As a society we’re in conflict and the conflictisbetween the needs of children and the needs of a global economy, where money has turnedtyrantbecauseits power has far exceededitssymbolicrole. Our present society isorganizedaroundaccumulating capital instead of around the well-being of children and the communitiesthat support them.
« The present system ismadness. Thosesocietiesthat are going to besuccessful are thosethatwillbecreative. And creativeadults come fromchildrenwho are honoured and nurtured.
« Imagination,’’ headds, quoting Albert Einstein, « is far more important than intellect.’’
Then, in a parting comment, hehints at how broadcouldbe the ramifications of a child-honouring society, « In a society thatreveredchildren, women, who are theirbirthers and primarycaregivers, wouldalsoberevered. Can therebeany room for the maltreatment of women if wemeanitwhenwesay, `Children are our future?’ ‘’