Saturday, November 04, 2006

Someone you know may kill you

No society that feeds its children on tales of successful violence can expect them not to believe that violence in the end is rewarded.
- Margaret Mead, anthropologist (1901-1978)

Margaret Mead was an anthropologist, for heaven's sake. Why should we pay any attention to the opinion of an anthropologist?

Let's work through this together. An anthropologist is a person who studies the history of humankind before any humans recorded their own history. She dug up artifacts of prehistoric humans, then built histories around what their lives must have been like based on the collections she found.

However, the history of prehistoric humans means little unless you know a great deal about recorded history. When you see patterns in that, you can determine if and when similar patterns occurred before history was recorded. You might say that anthropologists are super-masters of human history, both recorded and before.

Margaret Mead knew that ancient societies that taught violence to their children in the form of stories were themselves likely to have an average lifespan for males of fewer than 30 years because many of them would die in wars.

As anyone who attended high school more than a generation ago can testify, historical knowledge focussed on battles and wars more than anything else in the days when Margaret Mead was considered one of the tops in her field.

She knew that if you teach violence and war to children, they will be warriors as adults. "Teaching war" means in story form, just as much teaching today is conveyed through stories. Today we do this through conversations around the kitchen table, through television, video games or movies and with war toys that prime young children before they have any real concept of what war is and the devastation it wreaks.

By simple deduction we can understand that majory concepts such as how adults treat each other may be taught to children who have yet to reach school age, not by classroom-style lessons, but incidentally.

Young children have a great deal to learn in the two decades they are given before they reach adulthood. Before formal lessons begin in school or at home, they must learn by absorbing what adults teach them while the adults think the kids aren't paying any attention.

The main job that children have before they go to school is to absorb as much as they can of what happens around them, then sort through this massive and jumbled mess of information to derive some sense of what the world around them is about.

Children learn concepts easily. It's how they learn everything for their first few years. They learn concepts before they learn facts to support them in many cases.

If we want them to learn the concept of peace, we must teach them peace and show them the ways of peaceful people. We must also give them alternatives to violence and anger when things don't go the way they want with other kids and adults.

If we don't actively and consciously teach peace as a concept to young children, they learn about adults from other sources. Most of those other sources teach them that the world of adults is violent.

In some countries, they also learn about the peaceful ways of their people as they study in school. In other countries, they learn to fear others and that the best (maybe the only) way to deal with fearful strangers is to dominate them or to kill them, if necessary. In school. In history class.

As adults, as parents, grandparents, neighbours and participants in community events, we are role models for children, even children we don't know. Either we actively teach peace or we passively allow children to learn fear and violence.

What if children can't cope with the amount of violence and other ways that adults mistreat each other? What if they have moral dilemmas about it? What if they see hypocrisy about violence and can't sort it through in their heads?

Not to worry. There are lots of distractions such as drugs, crime and even mental illnesses that they can resort to.

Every day of our lives we adults pay out of our pockets huge amounts of money to support adults who were once children who could not cope with the circumstances of their lives.

Failure to teach what children need to know costs us dearly.

Bill Allin
Turning it Around: Causes and Cures for Today's Epidemic Social Problems, striving to put coping tools into the hands of children before they get their lives wrenched out of shape.
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