“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.