From Apathy to Activism


This morning I read a lovely online report about a little boy who is raising thousands of dollars for Haiti relief with a sponsored bike ride. I think that’s wonderful. You see, I was that little boy. At age seven, I was writing letters to the government about air pollution and learning how to compost. I won the good citizen award for helping out other children on the playground. As an expectant parent, I pledged that my daughter would grow up knowing about the challenges that people face. She’d be kind to others and gentle on the environment.

What’s changed? Well, not too much. We try to model a relatively sustainable lifestyle for our daughter. I’ve taken her to human rights-oriented meetings since she was three months old, and she regularly comes to work parties where we plant and tend food for those in need.

Yet somehow, I am reluctant. Maybe it’s the inherent nature of parenthood, this desire to cultivate your child’s interests and desire to help while safeguarding their peace of mind. I certainly don’t want to raise a child who scoffs at those in need, nor do I think that I am in any danger of doing so. But when she says that she is worried about people in places far away, I encourage her to give part of her allowance instead of encouraging her to embark on a larger-scale fundraising campaign.

In part, it’s the age. When my daughter says that she wants to help, something says that she’s too young to understand and really appreciate a larger campaign. Would it matter more to her to fundraise a lot? I believe that everyone can and should help others to the best of their ability, but what should a four-year-old’s ability be?

I also wonder if at this age, focusing on the difficulties of the world is something that she’s just not ready to handle. We talk about many things, but we are blessed not to experience many of the challenges that the world has to offer. For a little while, I would like to keep it that way. I want her to feel that her home is a safe nest in which she can grow, and that when she comes out of this place into a larger degree of helping, she does it from that place of safety. I’m happy to encourage her to help, but I am reluctant to let her delve too deeply into serious issues that might shatter her sense of safety. After all, she is only four.

What do you think?