L brought a book home from school the other day which was an unassuming little number called My Friend Whale by Simon James, a sweet but powerful book which combines a very simple story with fascinating facts about the magnificent blue whale: bigger than any dinosaur which ever lived yet the largest fish it eats is the size of your hand… The sounds they make travel THOUSANDS of miles across oceans… and they have different dialects, depending on where in the ocean they’re found! Truly awesome.
The power of the book lies in the surprising ending, where the whale with whom the little boy has been having fun adventures with just doesn’t come back (spoiler! Sorry…) The kids are so used to resolution of some kind in almost every story that it hit them quite hard: they demanded to know where the whale was and when I put the question back to them, they sadly but wisely said he might have been killed by humans. Maybe he got away, I suggested in an adult-trying-to-soften-the-blow kind of way but they’re old enough to not quite believe me and we talked about hunting, human nature and disconnect from nature.
M declared it the saddest book she had ever read and didn’t want to read it again. Both kids were affected – by sadness yes, and incomprehension of human behaviour, but also the desire to act, help and change things. When faced with the facts and the question ‘Do you want to help?’ the answer from children will almost always be Yes, giving me a little more faith in the essential goodness of humans, and a little more hope about the future.
By the time we’re grown up most of us have become quite expert at convincing ourselves not to stand up and take action: What can one person do? It won’t make any difference anyway…Other people (politicians, scientists, activists) will sort it out… that’s their job not mine. Or my usual tactic: taking action to a certain level and then putting it out of our minds – I’ve signed that petition, that’s my bit done. Excellent now can I get back to some mindless drifting around Instagram feeds of people I’ve never met…
But it’s experiences like our blue whale conversations that are there not just to help us guide our children towards conscious living, loving the earth and all who live on it, but also for our children to point our own selves back in the right direction.
If we can shift our view on parenting from it being a one-way transmission of education to it being a two-way learning experience, we can really benefit from the qualities and strengths our children show us. I felt inspired by my children’s desire to act. The responsibility of nurturing that enthusiasm feels particularly heavy in the light of everything that is happening in the UK and the world right now, and it’s more important than ever.
Jo Cox’s sister said in her statement to the press their parents had always instilled in them a glass half-full mentality and encouraged them to see the good in people. If we can do the same for our kids, we’re halfway there. And then we need to take our cues from them to avoid the apathy or selective blindness that it’s so easy to fall into.
It’s clearer than ever that we’re all going to need strength, determination, courage, hope, optimism and belief in the essential good-ness of humans, not only to survive and thrive in the world, but to help to preserve that very world. Whether we’re are working to save the blue whale (or the countless other species threatened with extinction), or for equality or peace or democracy, we need to know – and raise our children to know – that all beings and every thing is connected and if we hurt others, we hurt ourselves. We can’t save ourselves without saving others.
But as filmmaker Louie Psihoyos says in this inspiring little film ‘Every single one of us has the power to change the world in a profound way. When we come together we can do extraordinary things’. Let’s come together in hope.