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When children’s books that were scary or painfully honest first appeared on the market, protective parents kept them away from their precious young ones. After all, they reasoned, we have so little time to wallow in the idealism of youth. They wanted to shelter the little ones. But life doesn’t shelter little ones. Many are incarcerated away from the benevolent influence of parents for no wrongdoing whatsoever. In the real world, children are touched by domestic violence, sexual assault, gun violence, drug abuse, adultery, and the consequences of untreated mental illness—if not in their own homes, in their schools and neighborhoods and in the homes of their friends—regardless of their religious or economic status. Children are often targets. Authors such as Neil Gaiman or Jo Rowling contend an important message children must receive is they can survive. They need ways to process and overcome ugly stuff.
Certain circles insist they should simply ban behavior of which they disapprove, but people do what they are wont to do—regardless of bans. Some so-called religious followers (regardless of the religion) enjoy the belief they are the chosen few and, therefore, free to obey commandments selectively. I just encountered research (the veracity of which I haven’t determined) that found children raised outside religion are more empathetic. Others avoid traditional religions, secure that if they aren’t part of the pack, the social rules of civilization and fair play don’t apply to them. Instead, they give themselves permission to eliminate disagreement with bullying. If you want to influence behavior, the trick is to influence what people want to do, and hypocrisy doesn’t work. Bullying drives rebellion underground. The old saying goes you can’t legislate morality, and I would add, you can only demonstrate that morality feels good.
Do sheltered children grow into adults who deal poorly with reality? Is that a reason we have so many citizens who seem to make self-defeating decisions these days? I don’t know. My siblings and I were sheltered. I won’t speak for my siblings who have found ways to isolate themselves from confusion, but I know I yearn for a more perfect world—one that fits my dream of what people should be. Like so many, I hope to find heroes who deserve to be followed. When I watched Michael Moore’s FAHRENHEIT 11/9, my heart sank when I learned how blatantly President Obama betrayed the desperate people of Flint, Michigan. Et tu, Brute? What did he receive in return for his betrayal? Moore suggests that he joined the politicians’ “club” in which personal or party aspirations color decision-making. I was among those who wanted very badly to believe Obama was unfailingly different from his more selfish predecessors. He was certainly more sensitive to the needs of the masses than the administration we now endure, but some of his decisions feel unworthy in retrospect. I guess he’s human.
As we assess the candidates rising to the podium for the next election, we search for the ones who are truly honest, who understand the demands of democracy, who care more about helping the country and its people than enhancing personal ambition—regardless of personal cost. We also look for someone with enough character to resist the poisons of power even after years of exposure. We know we’re searching against the tide of political forces that can spin reality and won’t hesitate to do so. This is no time to be lazy. We need to lift our lamps to find an honest leader. It’s awfully dark out there.