Viewpoint: Focus on Children

Certainly we can all agree that there are a growing number of social ills facing society in Guyana and around the world. Many resources and wonderful efforts have been poured into campaigns to eliminate some of these problems … planning meetings, slogans, seminars, workshops… and yet the problems persist and continue to grow. What are we missing?

To illustrate the situation, let us imagine a small village on the slopes of a valley through which runs a small river. One rainy season after days of heavy rain and excessive high tides, the once calm river suddenly becomes an angry raging torrent of floodwaters – claiming property, livestock and villagers as well. Brave rescue workers desperately jump into the river to save what they can, repeating their efforts over and over, as the river continues to rise. Dismayed, they notice the village wise man at the top of the hill, with his back to the river, working on something they cannot see. Utterly exhausted by their efforts, the rescuers asked the wise man why he was not helping them. Without looking up, the wise man calmly replied that he was working on a machine to stop the flood. What we need to do in Guyana is to find a way to stop the flood of social problems at its source.

Are not the social ills facing society the result of a decline in moral standards and spiritual values? If this is so, then should not our human resources, our monetary resources, our creativity and energy be focused on the moral and spiritual education of children?

By moral and spiritual education I do not refer to instruction in the religious doctrines of any particular religion. Rather I am referring to the process of acquiring spiritual qualities or virtues such as: truthfulness, courtesy, respect, trustworthiness, obedience, patience, humility, perseverance, etc… Learning to show forth these qualities in our character forms the basis of spiritual  education – recognizing that we are in essence spiritual beings as well as physical beings.

The focus needs to be on children. Why not focus on youth, the age where many of these problems begin? Because, once a child is past the age of puberty, it is extremely difficult to change and refine his character, as it has already been formed; therefore it must be in early childhood that a firm foundation of moral and spiritual education is laid.

Training in morals and good conduct is far more important than book learning. The Bahá'í Writings give the following example:
“A child that is cleanly, agreeable, of good character, well-behaved – even though he be ignorant – is preferable to a child that is rude, unwashed, ill-natured, and yet becoming deeply versed in all sciences and arts. The reason for this is that the child who conducts himself well, even though he be ignorant, is of benefit to others; while an ill-natured, ill-behaved child is corrupted and harmful to others, even though he be learned. If, however the child be trained to be both learned and good, the result is light upon light. Children are even as a branch that is fresh and green, they will grow up in whatever way you train them.”

Who is going to be responsible for the moral and spiritual education of our young children? Parents, of course, especially mothers who are the first educators of their children. Teachers, most definitely! Children spend six hours every day in school. What better time to teach moral and spiritual values than in relation to the academic learning that is being taught? By teaching moral and spiritual values, the teachers will help children build a foundation upon which their future lives, goals and aspirations will be built. Children will recognize each human being as a member of the same human family, will foster the application of moral and spiritual solutions as they grow older, will use their knowledge for the benefit of mankind, not for its destruction, will respect themselves and others, will think first of service to humanity before their own interests, and these high standards will transform our society.

Too often we emphasise the things that keep us apart, alienating people from each other, instead of looking for points of unity, things that can bring us together. Certainly we can all agree that acquiring moral values and spiritual qualities is important and certainly we can all agree on what these qualities and values are. Why not let the love we have for our children and our concern for their future unite us in our determination to make moral and spiritual education a focus of everyone in the country… of parents, educators, spiritual leaders, leaders of thought, policy makers and those with resources to share. For human happiness is founded on spiritual behaviour and that is what we wish for our children, for our country, and for our world.