Imagine a pretty spring day. You’re standing on your front porch or some other pleasant vantage point and looking out at a sunlit landscape: trees, grass, and singing birds. Then your five-year-old child or grandchild walks up to you and tugs on your hand to get your attention. You turn and the child asks, “What kind of world is this?”
What do you reply?
This child deserves the truth. You won’t be able to use fancy words or long explanations, but truth doesn’t require those things. This child is ready to hear the truth about the world. This kind of moment comes along haphazardly, and you can’t be sure if or when another might show itself. Your answer may affect this child for the rest of his or her life. What do you say?
The 14 Words
As you stand on the porch, away from everything but nature and your child, the only intimidations, biases, and slogans present will be those inside of you… and your child should be insulated from such things. You have to speak truth. And as I say, it doesn’t have to be long and complex; in fact it can’t be, if you want to help a five year old. And it comes to just 14 words:
We are a beautiful species, living in a beautiful world, ruled by abusive systems.
Later – after true words have sunk into the young mind – you can explain that we’re not a perfectly beautiful species, that most people are often confused and that a few are just plain bad. You can further explain that volcanoes and hurricanes and grizzly bears exist. But if you value your child enough to tell them the plain truth, you’ll tell him or her the 14 words first and let them sink in before getting to the small print.
With that said, I’ll move to some explanation for the adults.
A Beautiful Species
11,000 or 12,000 years ago, humanity – perhaps five million of them – stumbled out from an ice age and began to spread across the earth, most of them having nothing in the way of science and technology. Since then, we’ve learned to fill the earth with food, build machines that race across the face of the earth, sail oceans and streams, and fly through the atmosphere at fantastic speeds. Imagine trying to explain these things to the people wandering away from their receding glaciers.
And not only this, but we’ve cured the vast majority of diseases, figured out the smallest parts of the machinery of life, built compendia of human knowledge, made them available anywhere and everywhere, and landed men on the moon.
We are a magnificent species. If that triggers “Never forget the darkness!” voices in you, please hang on to “We are a magnificent species” until they subside.
Here are two passages from G.K. Chesterton’s book, The Defendant, that bear upon dark, automatic thoughts:
There runs a strange law through the length of human history – that men are continually tending to undervalue their environment, to undervalue their happiness, to undervalue themselves. The great sin of mankind, the sin typified by the fall of Adam, is the tendency, not towards pride, but towards this weird and horrible humility.
Every one of the great revolutionists, from Isaiah to Shelly, have been optimists. They have been indignant, not about the badness of existence, but about the slowness of men in realizing its goodness.
You can find the same thing in the Bible, by the way. Theologies be damned, this is what Psalm 82 says, and which Jesus repeated: You are gods; all of you children of the most High.
A Beautiful World
This is a beautiful world. Get out and look at it: lay outside on a summer night and gaze at the stars for an hour; explore the wilderness. Don’t watch it on TV; go out and experience it.
It is beautiful. Perhaps not perfectly beautiful, but one flaw among fifty beauties does not negate those beauties.
We all know the systems that rule mankind are abusive. I’m not going to itemize, since we complain about these things every day. You already know. The problem with most of mankind is not that they can’t recognize abuse; it’s that they think they deserve it.
Now, let’s be clear on another thing: Rulership requires us to stay focused on evil. They have to frighten people and portray their competitors as “evil Huns.” They have to publicize threat levels and convince people they need to be saved from impending death. And of course, their dear friends in the media promote evil-consciousness 24/7.
Do you think, just maybe, that all this fear has bad effects upon us?
The truth is that we are surrounded by people who cooperate, who assist one another, and who care about one another. But those aren’t the things we think about – those are things we’ve learned to ignore. The flashing images of evil surround us and scream at us, after all: The Russians are going to attack, the other candidate is going to destroy all you hold dear, SARS (or bird flu or swine flu or Ebola) is about to kill us all! It’s a long, dark symphony of manipulation.
The truth is we’re a beautiful species, living in a beautiful world.
The systems that wish to rule us are quite otherwise.
4 thoughts on “14 Words”
Weel written..and well said, Paul. I am reminded of Ambrose Bierce’s musings on politics… one of which is: “Politics: A strife of interests masquerading as a contest of principles. The conduct of public affairs for private advantage.” Promoting fear has its advantages as well.
Paul, this is my favorite article ever. Thank you so much for articulating it so well.
My pleasure, Mellie. 🙂
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