Modern Childhood’s Shortage of Honest Inspiring Adults

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Most would agree that happy, healthy, bright children are an ideal goal and a wonderful outcome, but kids also need genuinely good and sensible adult examples and inspiration and instruction. Outstanding adult mentors ought to be commonplace, prolific. Such is not the case now in the so-called ‘western world’. Integrity has been marginalized, and a mad matrix based on deception and pretense has been empowered. This is every child’s perilous and problematic context. We need a reformation that honors truth, and cultivates truth’s derivative, common sense, on behalf of life on Earth.

Let’s weave a conceptual journey concerning the above.

Years ago it was common knowledge in Canada, even among children, that in the 19th century, Englishman/American Lord Henry Morton Stanley had plunged into ‘darkest Africa’ in search of the missing Dr. Livingstone, and upon locating Livingstone had uttered the famous words “Dr. Livingstone I presume?” Stanley had written a series of best selling books about his very real exploits as an explorer, and he and his adventures were short generations ago an inspiration to many young men.

But as it turns out, Stanley also included in his books many casual cruelties, many non-existent exploits, and he naturally deleted some personal shortcomings. Even Stanley’s original name was missing from the story. His birth name appears to have been John Rowlands, he was born in Wales, and keen biographers, according to author Paul Theroux, have determined that Stanley never actually said “Dr. Livingstone I presume.” Stanley was genuinely tenacious and courageous, but deficient when it came to veracity. As a role model, Stanley was a hard and disastrous act to follow.

More recently, it has become common knowledge that on September 11th, 2001, 19 Arabs with box cutters commandeered four airplanes and then skillfully flew two of them to New York and one to the Pentagon, in a suicide mission with amazing consequences. These included the death of several thousand people initially, as well as the complete destruction of the World Trade Center complex in New York, and amazing damage to the naval accounting office at the Pentagon.

In the case of those amazing Arab suicide pilots on 9/11 – some of whom were amazed to learn after the event from the media about their exploits – their infamy and declared demise is now lodged in University text books, and is being inserted into young adult brains.

The fourth airplane is another story, which we will now turn to. Here the approved version has seen some revisions, but the gist of it is that some the brave passengers rebelled against the hijackers and in the furious fight that followed, the plane plunged into the earth and disappeared.

Here again there is even at a distance barely a marginal potential for genuine inspiration, or role models, for any would be hijackers, and for any potential victims of a hijacking, let alone for children. And when one looks more closely, the various ‘official’ narratives melt away before common sense like an ice cube in a fire.

However, that hasn’t prevented the main corpus of the official 9/11 absurdities from becoming fare for many books, movies, university history courses, and countless media references.

But are the prodigious piles of adult lies and absurdities about 9/11 good for the children?

All of which is prelude to reminding us of a basic principle of human nature, especially when it comes to young and impressionable people: things asserted authoritatively and repeatedly tend to become common ‘knowledge’, no matter how unreal or absurd. An adjunct is that seeking ‘truth’ within the box of ordained and repeated ‘knowledge’ is permissible, and encouraged, and even rewarded when done well, even if the box contains rotten material.

Finding real important facts and drawing sensible conclusions outside the box of acceptable ‘knowledge’ can get you into trouble.

However there will be those who stray, anyway. Not long after 9/11 2001, I happened to have a conversation with a young man, a member of a religious order, one that sets up their own schools for their children, and who don’t have television. They are, in short, stubbornly refusing to embrace much of modernity, with all its delights and advantages and pitfalls and slimy tentacles. They end up not knowing a great deal that just about anyone with a television would take for granted. I asked this young man, who understood wood stoves and worked with steel and respected fire and deployed common sense, how he viewed the events of 9/11. He responded that a truck driver had explained to him that the world trade center buildings were actually demolished by explosives of some kind, which seemed to him like an obvious improvement over airplanes and fire, as plausible means of demolition.

This young man, who had not had the benefits of standard modern education and ‘the news’, then asked me: “What do you think it’s all about? Why do you think they demolished those buildings? “ Now there is some mentoring potential for the young and old.

I learned at an early age that stealing was wrong, and I loved strawberries. Far in the north of Norway, we had a lovely little home strawberry patch that produced mouth watering strawberries. My parents, in a kindly gesture one summer, allowed two traveling evangelists to stay overnight at our house, and my mother gave the visitors a generous helping of strawberries at supper. I as a five year old had a vague impression that the evangelists embodied some special spiritual stature: well-dressed holy men. That night at midnight, with benefit of lamps, the two evangelists were detected helping themselves to strawberries out in the strawberry patch. I concluded that those two thieves were not good people. This was my first memorable direct experience of hypocritical scoundrels. They were not role models or inspirations.

Later, in Canada in the 1950s, we had as neighbors a family whose son showed a remarkable early scientific enthusiasm, and was my age. He shocked me by bringing a very large fish head – a pike head I think it was – to school, to second grade ‘show and tell’. He also told me the first joke I had heard in English. Why do you never go hungry in the desert, he asked me: because of the sand which is there.

His parents had been missionaries in Africa and his mother instructed me as to proper behavior, and urged me attend Sunday school. Some years later, when I was about eleven, and at their home, she became enraged at her son, and lashed out viciously at him with an electric cord as whip, and chased my friend around the house, while he screamed and tried desperately to escape, then hid behind a bedroom door, and when she broke in, he continued screaming desperately and crawled under the bed. She hauled him out to lash him.

He turned out well, became a professor, and raised a nice family. But in his childhood home I had experienced a memorable dose of cruelty infused with hypocrisy, but no role model or inspiration.

Decades later, I did some house-repair work for an elderly and pleasant couple. On my final day there, they prepared a midday lunch outside in the shade and kindly invited me to join them. We chatted about the work and weather for a while, and then I threw them an ‘out of the blue’ question: “Looking back at your long lives, what is the single most significant societal change you’ve experienced?” Instead of a dismissal of any sort, or superficial quip, which I might have deserved, they took the question seriously, and after some time the husband replied that in his view it would be the decline of integrity. And his wife, after a further pause to reflect, nodded agreement.

I was surprised by their answer, and responded that in my experience most people were as good as, or better than, their word. He responded by saying you’ve lived a charmed life then. We’ve had some bad experiences.

He had been involved in the design and construction of the AVRO Arrow, which for those new to the subject, was an in-Canada independently developed Canadian military jet, in the late 1950s and early 1960s, and which is reputed to have been at least a generation ahead of its time in terms of specific capabilities. The project was brought to a sudden stop and just about everything involved including blueprints are said to have been destroyed, for reasons that are still in dispute.

One might have expected the old engineer and his wife to posit as ‘most significant’ some of the many technological marvels introduced during their lifetime. Instead, they pointed towards a crisis of human character in our society. He observed that often it takes courage to be honest. He wondered if the more basic problem was that somehow we as a society had cultivated weakness of character; lack of backbone, or failed to cultivate strength of character. We shared the view that when the profit motive ruled, honesty was in trouble, reduced to being either a helpful knave or a reviled enemy; in either case disastrously diminished.

In retrospect, I’ve come to better appreciate the astuteness of their remarks: In our Orwellian western world where now war is called peace, oligarchy called democracy, and mass murder and destroying a country is deemed a humanitarian intervention, there does seem to be an obvious big integrity deficiency, and corruption of character and misuse of language problem, especially in politics and mass media. And this is childhood’s inherited world.

When it comes to high profile western political figures, the common absence of integrity has been supplanted by a rich heritage of theatrical performances, where feigning integrity well while fibbing, and secretly accommodating depravities, can fuel a distinguished career in politics. But are these actors fit to be emulated or admired by children?

Where do children turn to for genuinely good role models?

A friend told me of a university setting where a large gathering of students were asked what they would choose to do if they could get away with doing something wrong, just a trifling wrong, that would be to their great advantage, something they wouldn’t do openly, but in this case they could not possibly be caught. Nearly all said they would likely do ‘it’, while one student demurred: I’d have to live with myself, was that lone student’s explanation, which made that person an odd person, or an outstanding person, depending on one’s perspective. Sounds like mentor material to me.

Some important element of strength of character was missing from nearly all those students. Is this a product of their education? Or of mass media? Or of their parents? Or all of the above?

During the NATO bombing of Yugoslavia in 1999, NATO lost a lot more aircraft than they have owned up to, and the Serbs hid their weapons well, so NATO began to more and more target civilian infrastructure. The war itself was a war crime, since it was a war of aggression, and as always was propelled by lies, and the resort to bombing civilian infrastructure was a further war crime. A Spanish pilot had the strength of character to refuse to go along. But enough NATO airplane crews followed orders and committed enough crimes to beat the Serbs into submission. That Spanish pilot was an odd fellow. Sounds like inspiration material.

Captain Adolfo Luis Martin de la Hoz, a Spanish NATO pilot, was reported as saying: “What was being committed there was one of the biggest savageries of history…. All the missions we flew … were planned by U.S. high military authorities ….There is no journalist who has the slightest idea what is happening in Yugoslavia. They are destroying the country, bombing it with novel weapons … toxic nerve gases … black napalm … uranium weapons … sprayings to poison crops….”

All of which brings us, again, back to the children. Some of the bombers received medals in honor of their crimes. Are those compliant honored bombers then to be childhood’s role models?

After Chernobyl, it was found that in areas affected by higher levels of radioactive contamination, children were commonly not thriving, whereas previous to the catastrophe most children had thrived. Over vast areas, the radioactive contamination was sufficient to do great harm to children.

But a dearth of genuinely good role models, a scarcity of admirable mentors for children, is another kind of general contamination, also capable of vast damage.

Now perhaps this is presented too simply. Let us note that there can be genuine differences of opinion as to what constitutes a good character, or an outstanding role model. Misunderstandings and disagreements are part of the human condition. Things are not always what they seem

In the spring of 1967, my father was a passenger in an airplane, flying at night over the wilds of Quebec, a predominantly French-speaking province in Canada. The twin engine plane contained perhaps twenty passengers, all French-speakers except for my father. There was a great deal of turbulence, with the plane bucking like a wild horse. The pilot speaking in French delivered an ominous sounding message, which my father did not understand, but which caused all of the plane’s French-speaking passengers to immediately show great sorrow and consternation. One old gentleman began to weep, his wife comforted him, and a young man buried his head in his arms and groaned in agony. Everyone was very upset.

My father drew the obvious conclusion that they were about to crash, and his heart raced and he gripped the seat, and began a crash course in coaching himself in the art of dying with dignity. The pilot then made his announcement in English. “I regret to inform you that the Toronto Maple Leafs have defeated the Montreal Canadiens in the final game of the Stanley Cup playoffs.” The Stanley Cup is the biggest prize in professional hockey. Montreal is in Quebec. My father had no interest in the sport, but reacted to escaping looming death with an enthusiastic hurrah, which was interpreted by his fellow passengers as an unseemly display of English Canadian triumph, and they gave him dark looks and muttered unfriendly comments.

The story includes the lessons that misunderstandings happen, and they can be quite dramatic: Being good role models and good mentors and inspiring examples for others, including children, does not call for super-human perfection: Strength of character is within the capabilities of very many people, all with flaws.

But being the good mentor, the good soul, the person of good character, pertaining to ourselves and thus to the children, is an achievable step, individually a small step, but collectively, with vast beneficent potential.

The modern child is already inundated by so many perverse media images, perverse media behavior, dishonest information, is the object of so much media manipulation of every sort. As a counterbalance, to develop well, they would so benefit by a richness of genuinely good adult instruction and genuinely admirable adult example.

The decline of integrity that the old engineer had observed is not necessarily the end of the story; there can be a reformation, the inauguration of the age of integrity. Honesty and the unfettered search for truth ought to be honored, not reviled or even criminalized. Integrity should be central to society. The inevitable elements of criminality, corruption of every sort, everything that fears or is embarrassed by integrity, and cannot survive without the lie, should be, at most, confined to the margins.

The process away from pathological dysfunctions, and towards societal sanity and harmony and profound success, must involve the centrality of integrity, and the repudiation of dishonesty. Given such a cultural context, the children will have a wealth of genuine inspiration and good guidance, and grow up to be profoundly good adults.

Robert Snefjella is a retired Canadian organic farmer and contractor [email protected]




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