It’s an OK world after all

by Katherine Stewart
This place. Not that shit.

This place. Not that shit.

The other night I was watching a discussion between sage-like knicker machinists Sean and Julie of Coronation Street.

Julie, who is pregnant, was concerned about the world she was bringing her unborn baby into. This is said often. “What kind of world am I bringing my children into?”

I should start by saying that if that’s your concern, then please do not proceed with any procreational activity. Why would you go ahead and make babies if you believe the world is so wrong and dangerous?  And shouldn’t humanity have died out in about 4,000BC with this type of thinking?

Humanity is not going to change.

It has evolved, sure, but unless human nature undergoes some kind of massive personality overhaul, it’s going to stay the same, forever.

And what is meant by “what kind of world am I bringing my children into” anyway?

Are people speaking about it as if it’s some sort of extraneous force that just ‘happens’ to innocent bystanders, while they watch hapless, like a scene from Deep Impact?

We make the world, so whose fault is it, exactly?

The main things that drive us in the West – money, taxes, death, our looks, worrying – have not changed over the centuries.

The levels on the above list fluctuate in New Zealand dependent on circumstances and of course now, more personal choices.

Personal choice. Now that is something to celebrate. In 2014 we have more choices than ever. I personally do not want to hark back to the days of yore when children were seen and not heard, and supposedly much safer.

I like the fact that I can talk to my kids about protecting themselves from strange people in long coats. They like knowing it too. It’s safe. It’s black and white. It’s no bloody secret.  Those people are weirdos. Stay away from them.

In my youth we were thought of as rude if we weren’t friendly to every stranger who talked to us. We felt obliged and nervous and didn’t really want to interact anyway, but we complied.

Not long ago a man began talking to my 4 year old son over our gate. The first things he said were, “Hey, I’m all good. We’re just talking”, an octave higher than he should have.

Many years ago as parents we might have saved social face, nodded and smiled at this person. What kind of people would we have been, to turn away such a friendly man?

Bright people with a bit of empirical skepticism, that’s what kind of people.

See how much we have learned? We have choices. We could stomp inside our houses, slam the door and complain about the proliferation of predators “out there” or we could accept that yes, they exist, and how will we deal with it?

It’s great that issues of alcohol, rape, sexual abuse, keep getting in our faces. These issues have plagued us for decades, if we are honest.  Now we have to deal with them. We are forced to have an opinion and be proactive.

It’s also forcing us adults to deal with our own issues, our drinking, our own trauma, the amount of time we are spending online, in cars, at work, blindly flailing through the day, while our children look on.

How did we deal with that horrible thing, when that happened to us? How are we going to be there for our kids if that happens to them?

We are being forced to confront the sometimes ugly realism of modern life. It’s not enough to give up and decide not to have children. Or worse, if we have children, show them how arse-whipped we feel by it all.

What our collective job is, as adults, is to stand up and articulate that everything is going to be ok.

Even if it seems otherwise. Yes, even if the weather is bordering on pre-Ice Age status, nine year olds are getting drunk, and we can’t even afford a house in Shannon.

We need to stop blaming the invisible force of society for everything.

We need to get a grip and start figuring out how to deal with it all.

It’s going to take time.  There’s no real end point, except to keep saying, “it’s all going to be ok”.

This era is exciting and dynamically changing. I agree that there are things happening in the world that are horrifying and against the principles of humanity. However, we live in a place called New Zealand, where one boy getting drunk has everybody talking and actually caring.

That’s terrible, we think. So what are we going to do about it?

The kind of world we are bringing our children into is a good one. A proactive one.

We’ve gotten so bogged down. We need to spine up New Zealand.  It’s a great world.

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3 comments

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Duncan Brown January 15, 2014 - 12:29 pm

In response to “What kind of world am I bringing my children into?”, we had kids, amongst other reasons of course, in the hope they would make their part of the world a better place. So far it’s worked 🙂

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Mark Blackham January 22, 2014 - 11:53 am

The view of the world described in this post is: it is a great world because we’re now smart enough to know how terrible it is.

That perspective twists and distorts reality. The evidence is in the column. A guy chatting to my kid over the fence… no normal adult would pass the time of day with a small child. No one would want to stop and chat about nothing to give a child the respect of a engagement with the wider community. Nor would they want, for a fleeting moment to share in the simplicity and splendor of the time in life when everything is wondrous and anything is possible. No, they’d only stop because they are evil.

A defensive reply in higher octave than usual? It wouldn’t be because he saw the suspicion and accusation in your voice and face. It wouldn’t be because he was also aware of the growing suspicion that make all adult – child engagement tainted. No, it could only be because he was evil.

Most of us don’t believe the world is lovely. We’ve got healthy skepticism and wariness. But equally, we don’t start with the belief that everyone is evil until proven otherwise. That’s a recipe for the world to end up exactly as you imagine it. It’s warped alarmism.

I’m a dad. I love spending time with kids. Any kids. I sit down on the beach to help them with a sandcastle. I stop and chat for ages with the local kids who set up a footpath stall outside their house to sell lemonade. I say hi to the kids mucking around at the park.

It takes a village to raise a child because we all deserve, and need, engagement with people outside of the particular confines and life-views of our own family. It appears from this column that some kids may be more in need of this than I had ever imagined.

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Katherine Stewart February 4, 2014 - 11:20 am

I like your comments Mark. Sorry it took me so long to respond to them.

Of course we stop and talk to kids – we do it all the time. There really is no intent other than as you say to talk to kids. I used the example of this guy because I knew something was not right with this person. Just that one person mind, not all people who talk to my kids. In a short blog I didn’t have the luxury of explaining the detail of the guy not leaving outside our house for about 10 minutes. Pacing outside our gate – not normal. Other passing adults also stop and talk to my son and they move on cheerily.

Part of what you are saying is that because of empirical skeptics like me, the world is a messy, negative place. Am I right? As in “what kind of a world are we living in where kids can’t just talk to a stranger?” Correct me if I am wrong.

What I am trying to illustrate is that we can have a healthy empirical skepticism AND remain positive and have a bright outlook on what could seem to be a scary world.

My other point is that with a bit of openness about the world we live in with our children, we may be able to break the cycle of victimhood that seems to be emerging lately.

Perhaps that is why I wrote the blog in the first place. The conflict between what is happening ‘out there’ and how we can face it and manage it and move on positively concerns me.

We have the option of playing victims or we can adapt.

Thanks for reading it.

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