These lyrics, part of “Children Will Listen,” rendered by the extraordinary Stephen Sondheim, are more on my mind than ever.
Why? Because, in the race to achieve an end result that we perceive will be to our ultimate benefit, often we tell ourselves that the end justifies the means. But, in doing so, we all too often forget that, indeed, children will listen…and learn.
Are we stepping back and considering how today’s strategies and decisions will impact our children as they evolve into adulthood and become tomorrow’s leaders?
What values will they hold dear?
Children will listen to what parents, leaders (religious, political, educational) show them by their words and actions as to what values and behaviors are acceptable. Will kindness, honor, and respect be held in high esteem, or will some or all of these traits be compromised in the pursuit of a perceived win? What values, what basic principles of human decency, do we risk becoming collateral damage as we see today’s children learn, mimic, and embody our words and actions?
When children become their parents.
I’d thought I’d be nothing like my father. As far as he was concerned, I was about as opposite from him as I could be. We shared few interests (fishing, which I still love). He pushed me into sports, and I pretty much hated them all (except for tennis, which I adored, but my dad? Not so much). So, think of my childhood relationship with my father as kind of a standoff—two people looking at one another and seeing a vast divide of differences. Meanwhile, my dad really had a tough time expressing love, which sometimes left me feeling adrift and uncertain that I was accepted in the ways that are so essential to a child. The good news is that he more than made up for that as I approached adulthood, and we enjoyed a robust friendship. Our expressions of love became frequent. He was in my corner, proud of me and pulling for me up until he died, way too young.
Why do I share this highly personal aspect of my life? Because I was certain I would be nothing like my father. And yet, today, I see so much of him in how I approach life and the values that I hold dear. My father was always fair. My mother was, too, but she tended to react emotionally. My dad would be like King Solomon, especially in how he managed and motivated people in his job as the Plant Manager of a three-unit nuclear power plant. Sometimes, I have a tendency to react emotionally to things (thanks, Mom) but my father’s strong influence tells me to wait, to settle down, and above all, not to make important decisions until emotions have subsided, and until I’ve stood back with a calmer mind.
Both of my parents never once faltered in epitomizing love and acceptance for all people of all classes and ethnicity. I grew up in a home where my parents constantly “adopted” foreign students studying at the local university, bringing them into our home for important events and family gatherings. I love that they modeled that kind of love-in-action.
Lastly, while my parents started out trying to manage us into a set of perfect behaviors and beliefs that were handed down to them by their parents, they let life teach them through experiences to be open to changing their minds and their behaviors. When they were willing to show that they didn’t have all the answers, that they, too, were evolving, always becoming better versions of themselves…well, that was powerful stuff. They modeled the importance of keeping an open mind.
So, I am grateful for what my parents taught me through their actions. Has it all been perfect? No, like my dad, I often struggle to articulate and show my love for people most important to me. Like him, I’m finding my way out of an all-too-often locked vault of deeply felt emotions.
Children will listen…and learn. I certainly did.
Short term “fixes” and long term effects.
Wherever we are in the world, whatever decisions we’re making now can have long term implications, positive and negative. In this modern world we can be all too often focused on getting more for ourselves while, dare I suggest, long term effects and consequences are given little consideration. The following lyrics from Children Will Listen are particularly powerful to me:
“Careful the spell you cast,
Not just on children.
Sometimes the spell may last
Past what you can see
And turn against you.”
Stephen Sondheim, “Children Will Listen” from Into the Woods.
How will future generations approach conflict?
I believe this is a particularly relevant question because everywhere I look these days I see WAY too much in-your-face confrontation. I see people not really listening to one another. Defensiveness leads to making assumptions and judgments, which in turn leads to name-calling. People retreat into their respective corners and nothing is solved.
And, lest you think I’m implying that such behavior is reserved only for people of one political affiliation, I’m not. It happens everywhere, all political affiliations worldwide.
What decisions will we make knowing that children will listen…and learn from us?
Can we expect honesty, kindness, respect, maturity, selflessness? Or should we expect, lying, meanness, disrespect, selfishness? I don’t have the answer. This certainly isn’t a black or white topic. But, these are questions, reflections, that I believe are more important than ever.
I leave with you a beautiful video of Josh Groban singing “Children Will Listen.” He has always been one of my favorite vocalists. Normally, I harken to his voice when it’s wrapped in lush orchestrations. But, this rendition of “Children Will Listen” for me is incredibly powerful in its simplicity. He is feeling the words as he sings.
And, as he sings, I pray.