Wed, 23 Jul 2003

Learn from human misery for our children

Simon Marcus Gower, Executive Principal High/Scope Indonesia, Jakarta

The images of war have been many and terrible. Middle East terror and the continuing conflict in Aceh have closely followed the war in Iraq. With the world's media now so abundant, there seems to be a flood of awful images. We have been inundated by the images of war and the suffering it brings and it is hard not to be overwhelmed by them. The prevalence of war, conflict and strife means that the supply of these images is almost without end.

From the sorrowful images of schools being destroyed in Aceh to images that seem surreal as they portray war as it happens, live; television screens, newspapers and computer monitors streaming internet news updates have been awash with the pain and anguish of war and conflict.

There can though be no more painful and appalling images than those of children caught up in the horrors of war. The heart wrenching images of children crying out in mental and physical pain should be a lesson to us all. But do we really learn this awful and horrible lesson? Do we see what has been done and what we have allowed to happen? Do we teach so that we might limit the chances of it continuing to happen?

We must surely learn and pass on that learning. It may not be a comfortable or easy task to deal with these difficult images and seek out answers from them or for them but we must take up the difficult challenge that they present us.

Teachers in schools can engender debate and serious thought about the consequences of war. Parents can show their sympathy and encourage empathy by spending time with their children genuinely facing and talking about the harsh realities of war. By putting young people now through the challenge of seriously and maturely exploring the often-grim reality of our world we may engender within them a desire not to permit similar things to happen.

Too often it is too easy for young people to avoid the hard realities of our world. Too often young people are left to be caught up in a shallow existence of pop songs, pop culture and materialism that leaves them inadequate and powerless to respond to real difficulties that may be faced in life.

Adults and adolescents need to be actively engaging their minds in the real world problems that we face. It is not enough or appropriate to be passive consumers of the imagery of our world. We have to engage with our world and similarly be encouraging of engagement from others and in particular young people. Schools can obviously play a central role in engaging young people with the world.

Schools present anopportunity for such active and peremptory engagement. The mere fact that a classroom full of people is a perfect arena for human engagement clearly creates an ideal forum for discussion, exploration and hopefully learning. If we are complacent, if we see no need to focus our minds and those of young people on the troubles of our world, then surely we are doomed to repeat and exacerbate the troubles and pains of recent experience.

It is said that through adversity we come to know ourselves and through suffering we may achieve some modicum of wisdom. How then are we to know ourselves and gain wisdom if we are not prepared to face adversity or respond to suffering?

The cynic might say that there are troubles all around us, that is the nature of our world, but we can only deal with our own troubles and feel our own pain. But this would seem to reduce us to a lowly and base survivalistic existence. We are human beings and we must surely aspire to higher humane values. We are surely above and beyond the mere survival instinct.

Our ability to deeply educate our children not just academically but also morally is undoubtedly one of our greatest human aspects and assets. But we have to teach not only of survival and the gathering of the essentials of food and shelter and even increasing personal wealth. We must also teach of love, of caring for each other and being able to help our fellow human beings.

Our social capacity is what can make us strong. It is the development of that social capacity and the stimulation of social conscience that schools must be critical players in. Evidently the images of war present a stern challenge to us all. But we cannot, in good conscience, shy away from them or try to ignore them. For some it may be that they can respond directly to the pain and the needs of those caught up in war.

Hospitals and rehabilitation centers will do much to help the poor children who have suffered loss of limbs, loss of loved ones or mental damage from war. But indirectly we must all do something to help. Even though we may be far from the war and have no direct link or contact with the area of conflict, we must all try to learn from it.

The poor boy that has had his arms blown off by a bombing or a missile launched from miles away. The poor girl that is battered and bruised by the falling debris from his destroyed home. The poor children that have been made orphans and homeless by the brutality of war; they are all suffering terribly.

We cannot know the depth of their suffering but we cannot ignore it and we must feel for them. And we must learn and try to pass on our learning to our children so that they may have compassion and care. And we may hope that they will not suffer similar horrors too nor be complicit in the creation of similar horrors in the future.