Innocence and experience…

6 08 2008

Whislt doing a favour for my neighbours tonight in watching their kids for a couple of hours, I was struck by two thoughts. Firstly, who was “Uncle Ben”? And what the hell made his sauces so popular?

This though was not the most pressing issue of the night. The second point I wish to tell you all about occurred as I was putting the eldest child to bed. At 8, this kid was no mug. Instead he was a polite, well-spoken, obviously intelligent lad, but the book he chose for me to read to him was an interesting one. My distinct lack of short-term memory means that I cannot remember the name of the book or the author, but I shall give you a brief overview of it. Essentially it was a poem, split, like childrens books are, over numerous pages, with just a few lines on each page. The theme was vaguely religious. The poem told of men, and their world (albeit in simplistic childhood terms).

It was though the illustrations that made the most impression on me. Starting with wide images of the globe, and then of countryside and towns, the book moved into looking at just one town. It appeared to be a nice, calm, peaceful town in the first pages, but, as the poem moved on, there were, slowly, subtley, images of war thrown in. An odd tank here. A helicopter there. By the end of the poem, the town had been decimated by war. The tanks and helicopters had moved on, and the inhabitants were beginning to pick up the pieces. It should be noted that the poem itself made no mention of war, or any kind of fighting, or destruction. The connotations of the words were seized upon by the illustrator and used to introduce young people to war.

This tale was simple enough for an 8 year old to understand the connotations, even if the significance eluded him. It was a very interesting example of how realities of the world, in this case war; are introduced to children. The poem ended with a sense of optimism, the suggestion of a thought that man can be good, and need not go to war. Which is perhaps idealistic, but hey, kids are idealistic aren’t they?

Added to this is the book that I am currently re-reading. Harper Lee’s famous “To Kill a Mockingbird” still strikes a chord with me. It shows (brilliantly, in my opinion) the rationale of children to the negative aspects of adulthood. In this case it was racism. Through the children’s eyes we see how such things as racism are in fact no more than irrational, irresponsible thoughts of adults trying to improve things for themselves (by which I mean, if they can pick on someone, they will not be at the perceived bottom of the social ladder).

Children are not stupid. They are highly perceptive people, with a view of the world guided solely by balance and logic. As they get older they become corrupted by cynicism, and the realities of a modern world filled by varying complexities. I think that if we adhered to the rationale of a child in some cases, the world might get somewhere.

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