In my previous post, I ballyhooed the fact that those taking part in our inquiry initiatives “give one another the benefit of the doubt. We don’t assume the worst in folks. We assume, rather, that each and everyone involved is operating from a position of sincerity — and they have a singular opportunity to reveal their unique story, how they came to the view that they have, as it relates to the question being explored.”
Who has this capacity like no other? Children and youth. Hands down.
Here’s a for-instance:
I’ve been holding inquiries with inner city teens from Philly schools for years, among them the magnet public school, Constitution High School, thanks to a particularly amazing teacher who wants his charges to have unique opportunities for further discovering, developing, articulating, their unique slants and stances and attitudes for being and doing in the world.
We held our latest inquiry on Inauguration Day, exploring the question, “What should Inauguration Day mean to you, to us?”
The students by and large agreed, as one put it, that the Inauguration of a new President should herald and “should mean leadership and the betterment of our culture, and diversity”. And of course there was a considerable disparity among whether President Trump would or could achieve this.
I asked them how many would have attended his Inauguration if given the chance.
Many said no, no way, but a few said yes, yes way.
One such student was Keianna Miller, who told the rest of us that while she didn’t support Trump as a candidate, not one whit, she would indeed have intended his inauguration if given the opportunity, in part to show her support for the presidency itself. She added that she believed that all of us, especially those who voted against him, should give him the benefit of the doubt for now, even as we should become more engaged citizens ourselves. She pointed to the Women’s March on Washington the following day as an example of how people are waking up to their role and responsibility in making sure our constitutional republic is all it can be.
Keianna’s outlook gave those on hand extraordinary pause. Her young counterparts in the exchange didn’t jump down her thought. Rather, they considered her perspective with all their being. They got that she wasn’t simply saying that we should wait and see, but also that we should become more engaged in the process ourselves, to keep the president on his p’s and q’s. Many of her fellow students, far from being dismissive of her perspective, came to embrace it.
To Keianna, we should not hold anything back; we should become more deeply involved rather than remain bystanders, because otherwise, if there are any looming unmitigated disasters, if indeed ‘the worst’ comes to pass, we also have ourselves to blame for allowing this to happen on our watch.
Her openness, autonomy, social conscience are of a sort based on the belief that we should never put all our hopes and dreams and aspirations on the shoulders of others, much less a President, but should look to ourselves. She is open, committed, responsible, and inspiring. I hope to be more like her and her fellow adolescents.
I write in The Philosophy of Childing that the openness of mind and heart that our youngest demonstrate, by and large, is no accident, and that their approach to live and living should be a model for those of us in middle-ish age.
The willingness of our youngest to give the benefit of the doubt does not mean they have blinders on. It means they do not automatically assume the sky is falling. And if they eventually conclude that it is, they don’t just shrug, lament ‘woe is me,’ and look to others to step up. Rather, they are the first to put it all on the line to arrest this development, and through their own deeds, sense of social conscience and personal responsibility, to push it back up, way way back up, into the heavens where it belongs.
But it’s not just the willingness of our youth to give the benefit of the doubt that I find so admirable; it’s also their unequalled ability to challenge assumptions — especially their own.
One might have a visceral reaction that Trump’s election was a disaster. Time will tell; maybe time is already telling. But one should at least ask oneself if out of such perceived gloom-and-doom prognoses come unrivaled opportunities — to break out of one’s slumber, for instance, and become far more fully involved in civic life in a way one otherwise never would have done.
One thing I know for fairly certain — if those who claim to support or to lead dialogue and deliberation initiatives have a clear bias (almost always of the left-wing variety), because their unchallenged assumption is that they are surely ‘right,’ then they automatically exclude nearly half of our population, and ipso facto are making it clear to those with whom they don’t see eye to eye that their views and approaches aren’t up to snuff and so they can’t be trusted.
If only our youngest could become fully involved, if only they had more paths to genuine self-determination, they would jump at the opportunity to model for us older folks how we could be more open-minded and trusting selves who build bridges, who transcend bounds between one human and another, especially when they don’t see things eye to eye. In this way, they are far more amenable to coming up with creative solutions for addressing our most vexing and seemingly intractable social and political woes.
They also are nonpareil adepts at listening to one another; they want to know one another’s stories, want to know why they come from where they’re coming from — especially if they come at things from different stances and attitudes (and they frankly love that our inquiry initiatives offer this unbridled opportunity.)
Why are our youngest so adept at this?
I assert in Philosophy of Childing,
An array of studies makes clear that adolescents have unrivaled brain plasticity, and that when this is properly tapped into, it allows them to learn and adapt far more quickly and adeptly than adults.What if we older folks exploited this capacity of theirs? To do so, we’d have to see this highly transitional stage as a window of opportunity. We might learn how best to evolve this capacity for conscious, explicit, practical reasoning, so that it stays with us and progresses over time. The problem is that those of us in the best position to realize this happen to be those with the least plasticity. We’re not inclined to reach out to adolescents, no matter how much insight we might gain about how to remain more malleable, adaptive, and responsive to rapid changes.
More’s the pity.
I do join House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi’s call to lower the voting age to at least 16, and see that as a vital first step in giving our youngest more rights to self determination. If they were a formidable voting bloc to be reckoned with, then ‘childkind’ is far more likely in our country to enjoy the same First Amendment rights as adults, and to have a genuinely world class education, among other boons not just to them, but to democracy itself. (You can also hear their eloquent insights on our Socrates Cafe Podcast).
Even with all the restrictions placed on our youngest citizens, don’t think for a second they are taking things lying down. They see with clear eyes the problems that beset us, and are determined to be the change the want to see in the world at large. Just consider these Declarations of theirs — against silence in a time and clime when it takes considerable chutzpah to speak out against wrongs, against sexism in all its pernicious guises, against bullshit (no possibility they’ll fall prey to ‘alternative facts,’ like older folks do), against our dependence on fossil fuels. They are rabble rousers imbued with the Spirit of ’76, and would make our Founders proud. If the sky is falling, as so many adults are sure it is with our current President, after such a short time in office, they our youngest will work with all their might to push it way, way, back up in the sky.
All I’m saying is, give our youngest a chance to show us the way, not only by emulating their unqualified ability to give the benefit of the doubt, to challenge assumptions, but by giving them more rights to being full and equal partners in making our open society all it can be.