There are many awful things that occur in this world. Rape, murder, hate crimes. War. Genocide. But – if I may be a little melodramatic – it occurs to me that the greatest travesty is to rob a child of hope and of belief in themselves.
A greater travesty than genocide, you say? Well, I admitted to melodrama, but maybe I have a point. Because, in my unverifiable opinion, many of those other travesties would not occur in the first place if not for so many children becoming adults without hope (or a particular kind of hope). And because robbing children of their hope is much more common, pervasive and normal than those other terrible things (which are unfortunately far too normal).
Even in many first world and ‘progressive’ counties (not that something isn’t terrible unless it happens in the first world), we see it. In South Africa, white children have no future. Also black children and probably coloured and indian children. In America, black children best settle for a gardening job if they aren’t good at sport or rap. In the UK, if you’re not born into money, your best bet is benefits. Only boys can be scientists.
Too often, I have heard people say things such as, “My grade 8 maths teacher told me I should drop maths, ” or, “In my first year our lecturer told us girls can’t be engineers,” or ,”There’s no future for <insert race of choice> in this country.” If you are one of the people who does this – stop it immediately. No child should ever be told told that there is something they cannot do. No child deserves to be robbed of their self-confidence in this way.
Of those who are not so blatant as to narrow children’s options by telling what they can’t be, many do so by telling them what they should be. Telling your child they can be a doctor or a lawyer is not the same as telling them they can be anything they want to be. Even if we deem careers in the arts or jobs as artisans inferior to careers as chartered accountants and rocket scientists (they aren’t necessarily), it is my firm belief that a willing artist makes a greater contribution to society – and is happier – than an unwilling doctor.
And of those who are not so blatant as to set expectations for children through what they say, many do so passive aggressively. We can do so by absenting ourselves (physically or emotionally) from those things our children do that we disapprove of. Such as being there to watch a rugby game, but not the play. Or listening attentively when they talk about one activity but make demeaning comments about another.
And even of those who are not so blatant as to influence their children’s careers sometimes restrict their options by telling them what they should do. No child should ever unwillingly have to take responsibility for their parents retirement, take over the family business, or be the cash cow for the family, extended or otherwise.
Life is hard
But life is hard, I hear you say…better temper their expectations now…let them down gently, rather than set them up for painful failure and disappointment. Yes? GET THEE BEHIND ME, SATAN! *cough* Let’s not confuse realism with fatalism. Life is indeed hard. Children need not – should not – believe that life is simple, fair or easy, but they should believe that they can succeed. Children should not be taught that the world owes them anything, but they should believe themselves capable of earning anything.
Warn them that they will need to work hard. Warn them that success often only follows on the heels of many failures. Warn them that there is a lot of competition. Warn them that others may not believe in them (but you do). Warn them that little in life is free (the best things in life may cost no money, but are not free).
But some things are impossible, or impossible for some people, I hear you say, no matter how hard they try. This may be true, but I GUARANTEE you, you are not capable of making that call on behalf of another human being. We can’t predict the weather next week – you believe anyone is capable of predicting what another human being is capable of over twenty years? Even if they fail to achieve their stated goal, who is to say they won’t achieve something equally fulfilling in pursuit of it?
We live in a world where the difference between the privileged and under-privileged is stark, but the greatest differentiator in my opinion is not money or opportunity, but confidence. Hope. Belief. Sometimes those who succeed do so against all odds, but for the most part those who do so, do so because people – someone – believed in them. That is the greatest differentiator of privilege…the privileged succeed because society tells them – explicitly or implicitly – that they can, or deserve, to succeed, while the under-privileged must succeed DESPITE what society tells them.
Don’t be the douche canoe who turns a future astronaut into a street sweeper.