Where do we find the greatest passion for justice?
In young people.
Young people have little tolerance for a film or book where good does not win in the end. In the past six years I have read possibly 20,000 young people a passage in a book where a young protagonist – a boy who has lost his family, country, even his identity- can choose to kill a helpless enemy, or try to save his life. Which does he choose? I ask. Which should he choose? Which is more powerful, hatred or kindness? Because both are contagious.
In all those many audiences, only two hands have gone up to say the young man will kill a helpless enemy. The rest cry out that he will save a life.
But small human animals are not born with empathy developed. Empathy must be learned. The greatest crimes against humanity occur when we teach our children that there are ‘unpeople’ – the homeless, the mentally ill, or those just ‘not like us’, -‘unpeople’ who do not need to be considered.
This is why the heroes of Children’s Week matter so much. It is not just because of their individual projects, but because, consciously or not, they mentor every young person who meets them or hears about their work.
They teach our children to see the needs that have been unnoticed. They show our children how one person can make a difference. The current social theory is that it takes only one person in fifteen to radicalize them all to be a terrorist, whether it’s the kind who kills with physical weapons, or those equally frightening, the people who prefer not to glance at something unpleasant. The result is just as deadly, whether it is by commission or omission.
But it also takes only one person in fifteen to teach kindness, the radical kindness that acts, instead of merely muttering ‘someone needs to do something.’
Kindness does not have to be large to be significant. Helping those within a family, a classroom, a school, a neighborhood – every one of those breathes kindness on those fifteen people, who in turn with pass the contagion on.
Whatever vaccines are created to battle new pandemics, whatever tools to fight monstrous bushfires, storm surges, crippling droughts and raging floods, the two most essential tools for our survival and our happiness are the most basic of humanity: kindness and cooperation.
This is the year of the virus. May this also have been the year when kindness spread even more powerfully, to our children, to each other, and our planet.