Check your baggage: capturing the wisdom of children

As we reflect ahead of next week’s National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Children’s Day, children are the future. And the future, like them, is bright.

Like so many before them, Generations Z and Alpha aren’t always dealt a flattering portrayal in the eyes of the media. While their predecessors were labelled ‘the Me Me Me generation’ (Gen Y) or ‘materialistic whiners’ (Gen X), Zs and Alphas are pigeonholed as the generations of instant gratification, glued to the screens of their various devices. 

Perhaps it’s a lack of understanding – or willingness to understand – but it seems it’s all too easy for us seasoned adults to label and judge. 

But when it comes to Reconciliation, there’s plenty we can learn from children and young people. And Evolve Co-Directors Carla and Aunty Munya are here to help us find it. 

The power of a good lesson

“Talise is always coming home with stories that demonstrate how she has been able to see things from a different perspective, and offer it,” reflects Carla of her 13 year-old daughter. 

Talise has grown up in a household where cultural awareness has been openly championed. She has perhaps already had more of an exposure to these different perspectives than most – and it shows. She’s eloquent, creative and capable of tremendous empathy. 

But it’s her moments of profound wisdom that most often have her mum lost for words. 

Like the time, when she was in primary school, that a school friend had visited Pakistan with her parents for a holiday. On returning, the friend gave a presentation to the class about her trip. While Talise was happy to share in her friend’s enthusiasm, a particular comment about a perceived lack of history in Australia compared to Pakistan didn’t sit well with her.

“I just remember Talise at the time, coming home and telling us about it,” recalls Carla, “but also the way that she handled it was really good. She didn’t confront the person, but instead tactfully educated her on how there is a lot of history in Australia. They ended up addressing that in the classroom.”

This admirably mature reaction must have come from somewhere. What prompted it?

When we ask Talise about her memory of this incident, her response is very telling. It just goes to prove the power of an important lesson. In this case, the lesson in question is the R3 Culture Method, a mainstay of Evolve’s approach to Reconciliation.

I was initially outraged by [what my friend had said] and wanted to confront her right there right then,” Talise admits. “But, in the back of my head, I heard my mum’s voice beckoning, ‘use the three ‘R’s’.”

“So, instead of interrupting her presentation and making a big drama, publicly embarrassing her. I reflected … it is very likely she did not mean the comment the way I interpreted it. I related; she would feel horrendous knowing that she had offended anyone and would be ashamed. I reconciled; shortly after her presentation concluded I pulled her to the side as to not cause a fuss and had a little chat about what she said.”

The friend, Talise says, appreciated both the message and the way it was handled. 

“She was extremely grateful, and explained how she never intended for it to come out that way, and apologised. After this encounter I lightly suggested to the teacher that Evolve would love to come in and do some training at the school.”

Diversity of experience is the key

It’s anecdotes like these that call for further reflection. Education is obviously important – but there must be something more at play here. What is it about young people like Talise that give them the ability to handle difficult situations better than many adults would? 

In Aunty Munya’s eyes, it’s a question of diversity of experience. “I think it’s just being exposed to different points of view – it broadens the child’s mind and world view,” she explains. “For Talise, we’ve often said there’s not just one way to do something, there are a million and one different ways to do it. And that must be incredibly freeing for a young child, because you’re not just stuck with this one view of the world. It doesn’t have to be just this particular way – it can be whichever way she wants it to be.”

When wisdom is a call to arms

With Children’s Day approaching, there’s another, more urgent reason to reflect upon the relationship between experience and world view. And the recent documentary film In My Blood It Runs tells this critical story. 

Ten year-old Arrernte/Garrwa boy Dujuan is kind, fiercely intelligent and endlessly charismatic. But for his family – particularly his mother Megan and grandmother Carol – keeping him off the path to incarceration is a daily struggle. 

There is much we can say here about the inter-generational trauma and profound racism that children like Dujuan face on a daily basis. The institutionalised discrimination and cruelty so unfathomable that trying to work through it is a momentous task. It’s not hard to see why the weight of so much pain can occasionally push people over to the wrong side of the law. 

It’s a separate, lengthy conversation – and one that must be had. 

But there is also much we can say when it comes to the wisdom of children. For at the film’s heart is a child so insightful and so courageous that he has taken his call for better treatment of Aboriginal children as far as the United Nations. 

So … what can children teach us about Reconciliation?

“Children are so beautiful,” reflects Carla when we pose this question. “And they’re not encumbered with as much cultural baggage. So they’re just so much more receptive to all of these positive changes that are happening.”

Looking back over the last few years, there’s been a push for global change across a range of social issues. Same sex marriage. #MeToo. Black Lives Matter. 

Little wonder today’s children and young people are more accepting –especially where they’re supported with the right education and messages.

Talise agrees. “You will find that throughout any period of time, the previous generation will have more conservative views. This is just how we adapt,” she explains. 

“And this is why it’s so important to feature the voices of younger generations.”

 But what about adults? Can we adapt?

“It’s really possible,” says Carla. “But we just have to acknowledge the baggage that we’re carrying – and be willing to look at it.”

And that? That’s the key.

Carla Rogers and Aunty Munya Andrews are Co-Directors at Evolve Communities. 

You can watch In My Blood It Runs on ABC iView until Tuesday, August 4. 

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