Category Archives: Considering Evil

Why did it happen?

“I don’t want to go on school trips outside this country?” I knew that was when we were finally going to have the Paris conversation with my 7 year old.

Year 6’s trip to France has just been cancelled. This means, inevitably, the whole school from 4  years up somehow has to know why.

The night before, my daughter, popped her head round the door to ask “Will the world end?” Apparently two 4-year-old boys were discussing it?

I keep my children away from the news. I would prefer to be their filter at this stage in their childhood. But cocooning them also has a price: we need to actively be the filter.

My son wanted to know “Why did it happen in the first place?”

This may be that first news story that winds him; that makes him realise we are vulnerable; that makes him see the world as a dangerous place, and that frightens him.

I think there’s disbelief for many children that young. They want to know why? Why could Year 6 go on the school trip last year, but next week it’s suddenly too dangerous.

Change and permanence are key concepts children have to assimilate into their daily life. Sometimes there will be a supply teacher that won’t be so helpful as their own teacher. Sometimes football will be cancelled because of the weather. These changes can throw them.

But sometimes, bombs and guns will kill people simply going about their daily lives in normally safe countries, very similar to our own. How do they have any framework for dealing with that reality?

By “Why did it happen in the first place?” perhaps my son was also saying “How could everything so dramatically change….just like that?”

Nothing happens just like that. I didn’t say this to my son at the time. I was fumbling around for the right words. ( If you ever think that writing this blog means I’m able to come up with coherent and helpful answers on the spot, you’d be very much mistaken.)

On reflection, I’m thinking how children that young are still grappling with the cause and effect of not sharing, let alone the cause and effect of behaviour across millennia, races and continents. But to understand how this particular trajectory of violence started in the first place, we need to understand humanity, and – posture as we all do about this from time to time – we really can’t come close.

So, how could everything so dramatically change? It all changes when a group of people wants another group of people to live their lives a totally different way and won’t allow the other people to say they disagree.

Perhaps that’s the element of human behaviour we do all understand, however it’s disguised or presented and however inconceivably grotesque are the means used to try and achieve that control.

“Will the world end?” How can we answer that?

I bet there have been children asking that for hundreds and hundreds of years. Maybe your Grandad did during the war when he had to run outside in the cold and dark to the shelter in the garden?

Sometimes it feels like everything is changing. Sometimes we can’t imagine how things will get back to normal and we won’t feel like this.

We understand human beings can do terrible things. But just as much, if not more so,  human beings have a deeply ingrained resilience: like an inbuilt hope, that made them run soup kitchens on bomb sites, and today makes them distribute clothes and food to refugees, defend Muslims subjected to abuse on trains and, sacrificially, and with no thought for their own safety, go back into the Bataclan theatre having escaped, to rescue friends.

The pain of loss can never go away. But showing love gives hope: hope that humans can find a way to live together with different views at no-one’s expense.

Our capacity for faith, hope and love is immense. “But the greatest of these is love.”  

Somehow, if our children can leave our “Paris conversations” with hope in people’s capacity to love, rather than with quite so much fear of their capacity to break hearts and lives; if  our children can leave these discussions with an awareness of people’s resilience, to say, ‘We will carry on and care’, then I hope they will, somehow, be empowered by seeing good overcoming evil.

How have you been dealing with this with your children? What sort of questions have they asked you? Please do share your thoughts.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The Germans are the Baddies aren’t they?

I felt a bit winded – especially given that my son’s god-father is German – when my son saw a German flag outside an international hotel a few months back and pronounced it a “Baddy” flag. And of course, with poppies everywhere at the moment and our children somehow observing the silence in school, it’s bound to be discussed over the meal table this coming week. Who are the baddies? And why are the people who were baddies not baddies now? Combine that with, why are there still wars, and you’ve got your work cut out.

My son’s god-father, whose grand-dad fought against us in the war….he was a “baddy”. Uncle Martin, who is great fun to play footie with…. is related to a “baddy” I told my son.

War turns normal family-orientated, loving and caring people into killers.  Empathy is, according to a study out this week (https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/parenting/wp/2014/07/18/are-you-raising-nice-kids-a-harvard-psychologist-gives-5-ways-to-raise-them-to-be-kind/  ) something we don’t teach our children enough. Certainly, we should prize it more and it’s the only way to really answer this week’s confused jumble of war questions.

Quite simply – put yourselves in the shoes of Uncle Martin’s Grandad. Do that and you realise that he knew he might have been imprisoned for NOT fighting.  Do that and you realise that, back then when Hitler’s media machine was in full swing and, at least superficially, the country was developing well, Uncle Martin’s grandad may have actually been pro-Hitler. Untitled design-6

How many times are we in favour of things but we don’t really understand them? How many times do we bow to peer pressure when we should simply do what we believe to be right? I think that’s the lesson I want to teach my son from war. We are responsible for our actions, but the State can wield an almost indomitable power over its citizens, and this must always be checked.

In a moving school assembly the other day to mark Black History Month, children – based on Martin Luther King’s speech  – said what their dreams were. One boy, with the kind of innocence that reduces adults to tears – said how his dream was for world peace and for “all the soldiers in the world to realise that it’s bad to fight”. But of course, soldiers are servants of the State.

So how can we achieve world peace, especially when many governments around the world are unjust? Maybe we can start by telling our children, and modelling for them, how important it is not to distance yourselves from someone just because they are different. Maybe we can encourage them to see who are the most vulnerable people in our community and consider how we can help them? And because wars often start out of injustice, maybe we can consider what we think is unfair in the world and challenge this? We could focus with our children on making trade fairer for impoverished farmers in developing countries. We could help them write to our MP to raise the issue of children working in unsafe conditions in factories supplying British clothing companies.

Of course, I’m not saying war starts because bananas aren’t all fair-trade. I’m not saying that there’s a war going on because of poor standards in factories in Cambodia. (And I’m mindful someone reading this in a country with unthinkable human rights abuse would count all this as staggeringly easily written…as if it would make any impact in their country).

What I’m saying is our children need to learn that they are not impotent to at least challenge systems which support the kind of injustice perpetrated or condoned by governments around the world.

All that is needed for evil to triumph is for good men and women, and boys and girls, to do nothing. Doing nothing may put us closer to the “baddies” than we’d like to think.

What do you think? How do you tackle questions about war with your children? Please share your thoughts.

Why don’t we celebrate Halloween?

Halloween has lost its way.  It WAS all about light repelling darkness. Druids carved out frightening pumpkin faces and lit them in their windows to ward off evil spirits; they were seeking to reassert control of good over evil and to protect their homes from malign powers, on the night the dead were thought to visit the living. 1

Today, it’s children who are decked out in gory wigs and skulls, pretending to be those visiting ghouls. I totally appreciate that many Mums I know choose to tightly control how Halloween is marked in their homes. Wearing an old sheet in a bid to get some chocolates from the neighbours hardly means inculcating a sense of the manipulative power of evil in your children. However, the question I’m left with is this: why are we – on one level – somehow fascinated by evil and how does it affect us?

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I understand how going into Poundland and seeing a mass of green witch wigs, orange spiders and plastic blood-stained fingers, gets many children excited. That’s the crux of the matter for me.

Hardly a night goes by without some documentary on television detailing horrific crimes. The Sunday Papers give break-downs of exactly how a hostage has been tortured in minute detail. It sells. Under the cover of current affairs, it’s permitted by society. I believe there’s a streak within us all  – and it surfaces with different prompts – that gets excited by evil. This is complicated and I don’t profess to understand it, but it’s why the most docile of people can be gripped by a thriller about an axe murderer, or the grimmest of crime dramas.

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I think it’s important to recognise this proclivity, but it’s vital not to indulge it. When we indulge it, we let go of a bit more humanity and we also tell our children that’s ok, or possibly worse still, that it’s a joke.

I remember reading a grisly book. It was well written, by a highly regarded novelist, but it detailed dreadful crimes. I couldn’t give it to the charity shop, so I put it in the bin. I didn’t want anyone else carrying the burden of having read what I’d read and feeling guilty for keeping going too long. Choosing to read another chapter was wrong and I lost a bit of humanity in the process.

Today, whatever you believe about the tangible presence of evil, we can all recognise darkness in our society. If only we were able to remodel Halloween and encourage our children to see this as a time of celebrating light overcoming darkness, in how we engage with poverty, homelessness and vulnerability in our communities.

We often feel overwhelmed by suffering we see around us. This Halloween our children will be putting up lanterns (still pumpkins) and remembering people who need light in the darkness of their lives. We’ll be dressing up as Luke Skywalker and Princess Leia and going to one of the many Light parties churches and other organisations put on around this time – children can still do the apple-bobbing and pumpkin carving, but with a positive message to take home.  And, because we don’t just want to be merely spinning the story, we aim to try and shine some light, however small, in a practical way, buying some hats to be taken by a friend of ours helping refugees in Calais.

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The days in the Church calendar of All Hallows and then All Souls (both following Halloween) are about remembering those who’ve died. Their lives may have shone a powerful light on our own.  Maybe we can start using Halloween as a way to lighten the lives of others and bring hope rather than fear?

So how do you mark Halloween? Should I just take a chill pill and have fun? Or do you think there’s a sinister side we need to keep in check? And if we want to, how can we be light overcoming darkness? Please do join in the debate.