“I can’t believe it,” she muttered.
“My sister is just like my mother.” Continuing, “She is constantly telling my nephew how much everything costs. She’s teaching him the exact same thing she taught me. I hate it.”
“I see,” I noted. “Maybe? Just maybe? He’ll be able to grow past it. That, just because he is experiencing this today, doesn’t mean he can’t overcome it.”
Frustrated, she lashed out, “No. He’s just like a dog. He’s learning only what he’s trained.”
“Yeah. Maybe.” I noted. “But maybe just like other kids today, he’ll become resourceful, interact with others and become something better than that being taught.”
“No.” she replied. “Impossible. He’s only being groomed into being guilted into caring for his mother.”
“But maybe ….” Pause.
“If you want to make a call …”
She hung up.
The messages children learn are powerful, with most being planted before we discover the capacity to challenge and reject them. Such a message is found in Harry Chapin’s song Flowers are Red, released some 40 years ago.
In the song, Chapin offered a warning to those who would abuse privilege. As such, a little boy is delivered to school full of life. He sees a world full of colors with no rule as to which should apply to what. The crayons dare him to draw. The teacher intervenes for the boy’s “own good,” as she’s seen this before. It’s bad. A child’s view of a world offering flowers of different colors brings only trouble. Eventually, the teacher punishes the child until he surrenders and tells the teacher that “flowers are red, and green leaves are green.”
The last stanza of the song indicates the child moves to a new school. A new teacher claims ‘… painting should be fun. And there’s so many colors in a flower, so let’s use every one.” However, one student paints flowers only red and green. When asked why, he quotes his previous teacher.
“… flowers are red, and green leaves are green. There’s no need to see flowers any other way than the way they’ve always have been seen.”
The point I was trying to make was that we must get past children being nothing more than trainable dogs. Yes, maybe her nephew (and her sister) are having a difficult time. However, there should be nothing that summarily dictates the future – that our current opinion of any child should not become that child’s life.
Instead, maybe life has a different, yet unseen purpose. Maybe, her nephew will cure some form of cancer, become a recognized mathematician, create a solution to global warming, write great novels, a wonderful chef, an honest and trusted business owner, husband, lover and father. The possibilities are endless.
Enthusiasm should be our vehicle for education and love. As a Buddhist, I believe Chapin’s real message might better be directed toward the second teacher. Will the second teacher give up? Can the second teacher be successful? And, should she be successful, would not the lesson be that life still remains a place of endless possibility?
This Christmas I ask each parent to look at their children with love. Do one thing … get past dog.