BY Chris - Apr 8, 2015 0
Children make us see the world differently, largely by ruthlessly hijacking our televisions and replacing our normal cultural input with talking animals and plucky, courageous teens doing unlikely things in garish colour and at great volume.
Despite this, watching children’s television is usually a fairly uplifting experience. The world is presented as an ultimately just place, with powerful people who stand up for ‘the little guy’, bullies getting their comeuppance and true love springing improbably up out of every corner. The values that we see displayed are unequivocal and absolute:
While all this can get a little sickly, there are good reasons to be in favour of it. The idea that these are the values that will inform the lives and moral attitudes of our children is a heartening one, and, within reasonable limits, it behoves us all to encourage this kind of ethical propaganda. It does, however, raise a few questions.
Why, if generations of children have been brought up with such excellent moral tutors, is the world such a greedy, unjust, selfish and violent place?
Does the moral education provided by entertainment have any effect at all?
If these lessons are being taught to children literally from the cradle, why do so many of us grow up to be such unconscionable pricks?
I’m afraid that there is only one possible answer, and it isn’t a comfortable one. The only logical explanation for the distance between ‘Disney’ and reality is that children learn far more about morality and the world from actual adults than they do from the television. We can expose them to as much media and entertainment as we like, but the real conditioning of their behaviour is achieved by imitation. It is to be expected, therefore, that when it comes to imitation, children are going to choose real people for their subjects, as much as their fantasy lives might indicate that they are, deep down, destined to become Dora the Explorer.
So, why is the world such a greedy, unjust, selfish and violent place?
It’s because we generally behave as if this is perfectly acceptable.
I’m sure that the vast majority of people, on an individual level, are wonderful. Okay – nice, then. Tolerable? Let’s go with tolerable. In any case, very few parents that I have observed directly teach their children to be selfish little bastards – for one thing, most children need no instruction whatsoever in that regard. So what is it that perpetuates the disgusting state of affairs that we now live in? It is the example of acceptance that we set. Whatever we may say, do, or consent to watch, children are freakishly good at picking up on certain truths, and the one that they seem to be picking up most from us is that we’re okay with things as they are.
Sure, we have our daily two-minutes’ hate whenever we read the Telegraph or watch current affairs programs. Sure, we complain and rail against the state of just about everything and everyone that hoves into view. But, most importantly, we most of us don’t appear to do a damn thing about any of it. It is this that informs our children, more reliably than anything else, that no matter how bad things are in the world at large, there is neither a duty nor a need to try in any way to fix them.
So long as we have the mortgage paid, food on the table and inexhaustible reserves of inane conversation, our responsibility to civilisation and the planet has been more or less fulfilled. I can guarantee that this attitude is keenly perceived and absorbed by the forming minds around us, our example overriding any more didactic attempts at ethical instruction.
I hear you say: “That’s all very well, but how do you propose we fix it? And, more importantly, do you seriously think the average parent has time for activism? What kind of feckless idiot are you?” Which would be fair enough. What I would suggest, though, is that we just try to maintain an awareness of the following two questions:
Am I living my values?
Are those values such that I would like to pass them on to my (or anyone else’s) children?
If we can all remain conscious of these two things as we go about our daily lives, we may actually be able to achieve an incremental gain in the direction of a better world.