How do we explain to our children all the corruption, hypocrisy, deception, and dissonance that pervades the adult world? What should we say to little ones when their trust is betrayed, or they witness supposedly good people behaving in bad ways?
Some adults argue that we should simply tell children the truth: We live in a cruel and hostile world, filled with selfish people, and humans are simply duplicitous by nature. According to this approach, children are naïve, and the earlier we wake them up to the harsh “realities” of life, the better.
Others believe we should ignore the issue and avoid answering our children’s questions. “What’s the point of telling them about the deceptive world,” the argument goes, “when they will learn about it on their own?” Let children discover through their own experiences the contradictions of life and adapt accordingly.
Then there are those who believe we should sugarcoat and minimize the issue by telling kids that people are basically good except for a few “bad apples.” They believe we should blunt children’s disappointment by downplaying the problem.
All three of these approaches fall short. Lying to kids, even in the name of protecting them, is not a healthy option, although every parent knows the dilemma of how much information to share. We don’t have to tell our children the raw truth about every tragedy in life, and it is reasonable to withhold some information until they are mature enough to assimilate it.
On the other hand, bluntly telling children that people are cruel risks destroying their idealistic view of life and replacing it with fear and mistrust. Without idealism and the ability to dream, hope, and aspire, what kind of people would we be?
Some of humankind’s greatest achievements come when we combine our childish purity, virtue, and innocence with the seasoning and experience of adulthood. The combination of maturity and vulnerability, of wisdom and fascination is one of the most potent forces in life. The most powerful breakthroughs and revolutions come from people who did not accept the status quo but believed something better is possible. One of the biggest challenges parents and educators face is to equip children to preserve their integrity amid the deceit and duplicity they are bound to encounter.
The Secular Viewpoint
How we address this conundrum depends upon how we view the very nature of human beings. The prevailing contemporary theory on human personality, what we might call the “Darwinian-Freudian model,” holds that humans are selfish brutes at heart who have evolved through survival of the fittest into intelligent creatures. The “id” is the inherent selfish force within each of us and wants whatever feels good at the time, with no consideration for the reality of the situation or the good of others. Yet we have developed the rational “ego” and “superego” which superimposes itself on the unbridled Id. The ego’s job is to get the id’s pleasures but to be reasonable and bear the long-term consequences in mind. This model leads us to the depressing conclusion that people are capable of stooping to duplicity at any time if it serves their self-interest.
A Different, Revolutionary Perspective
There is another approach — one that is diametrically and unequivocally opposite of Darwinian-Freudian model. It is based on the Bible’s view that people are created in the “Divine Image.” We are first and foremost, and at heart, not brutes or beasts, but souls and spirits. Yet each of our souls was send down into a material world, dressed up in a physical body, with corporeal needs.
We thus have two perpetual voices within us: the voice of the Divine soul aspiring to a selfless life of virtue, and the voice of the selfish body seeking to meet its needs. We are forever torn between the subtle voice of the spirit in search for higher meaning and purpose, and the voice of the body desperate for survival and immediate comforts. In this lifelong conflict, which voice will prevail?
The Biblical view holds that this battle between soul and body is the purpose of our existence. Each of us has been charged with the mission and the resources to overcome the selfish temptations and allow our souls to direct our bodies, rather than the other way around.
This is our ultimate response to dissonance in all its shapes and configurations: We face duplicity and dissonance in order for us to to overcome it so that we might be transformed.
Treasuring the Truth Within Children
Based on this model, we can see our innocent children as vast reservoirs of truth. As vulnerable, pure creatures, children retain and carry the secret “truth” of existence:
A pure soul manifested in a selfish body is the conflict and purpose of our lives.
Armed with this attitude, we have a most powerful and eloquent response to the questions our children ask about corruption and deception in our world. Consider this letter when you seek to answer your child’s questions about duplicity and corruption:
My Dear Child,
As pure and delicate as your precious soul is, I want to share with you an important lesson: G-d sent you and I, and everyone, down to a not-so-nice world where His presence is not always easily seen. In this world, many people wander away from what is best for them and do things that hurt others. But please know, my dearest child, that G-d gave us a challenge in how we respond. Will we be fooled and seduced by the darkness, or will we bring light and warmth to everyone we meet?
G-d entrusted us with His world and gave us this choice. Sadly, people often do things that go against what is best for their souls and for other people. They may lie, or cheat, or intentionally hurt others. But always know, that just because others have fallen, you don’t have to. You have the power to live up to your highest aspirations.
As a child, you have something to give us adults that we desperately need: hope, trust, beauty, and innocence. We in turn want to give you love and nurturing, strength and power to use your purity to conquer the world with spirit and soul.