When Walt Disney Meets the Readers' Digest
In somebody’s waiting room the other day, I picked up an old magazine – Time, I think it was – that somebody had left behind. It was full of the stuff that Time magazine tends to be full of, and I came across the statement that the present generation in the United States was the first one that could not look forward to a quality of life that improved on its parents' generation.This was an indication that a crisis of some sort faced America.
Children, in the United States, have a special status. America has been largely peopled by immigrants. The myth of a golden land where you can work for your children to have a better life is deeply engrained.
(Paradoxically, an equally strong myth harks back to an earlier, simpler existence, in which children were happier than they are now.)
There is, in fact, a body of thought which suggests that childhood itself, from Santa Claus to Mickey Mouse and the Tooth Fairy, and a huge collection of unforgettable people in between, is largely the creation of the United States.
After a bodywork session with me recently, my friend, Jennifer, was reflecting on some of the places we had been to during the previous hour or so. "I don't think," she said, "that there's any part of our experience that's free from wounding. And it's not necessarily deliberate – it's just ordinary human clumsiness."
When we accept that this is simply part of the human condition, it becomes simpler for us to use the healing tools that are also there for us as part of being human.
If we set up childhood – or for that matter, Christmas Day, birthdays or honeymoons – as areas of experience that have a right to be carefree, idyllic, and free from wounding, we set ourselves up at the same time. When things go sour, we have a right to be angry, we have a right to blame somebody.
And I've never seen anybody, ever, who healed themselves while they were holding onto anger, self-pity and blame. These are toxic.
I believe we have already in our society just such a vision of childhood. Certainly it is a vision that many African children would find it hard to relate to, as would the child slaves in many other countries.
Abuse is about boundaries which are not acknowledged or respected. It is about using others for our own purposes without consulting them, and without consideration for their wishes. It happens all the time. Not sexual abuse, just the common or garden variety that you can’t be sent to jail for, and you can’t get ACC counselling for.
It often seems to me that very few adult New Zealanders are educated about boundaries or sensitive to them . In a thousand ways we can give our children the message that they are unimportant. (1)
We ride roughshod over them, not from some innate evil, or because we are male, or female, or white, or black, or left or right, or Christian or Muslim, but simply from ordinary human clumsiness, from tiredness after a long day, from irritability or worse when we have lost an argument and look for someone to take it out on. When out of our own hurt and anger we use them as ammunition in a battle with an estranged partner. When out of our own "failed childhood" we use them as a second chance to succeed where we "failed". Or when we have had a very happy childhood and seek to have our own children relive it, whether it is appropriate or not.
These are the encounters, by no means obviously violent, that I believe, in their dozens and in their hundreds, create the damage to our self-esteem, slowly, cumulatively over the years, and create the conditions for visiting it on the next generation.
One of the big questions that sexual abuse counsellors have failed to answer is why an apparently insignificant incident of so-called sexual abuse can frequently "produce" such serious consequences, or why an incident like a gang rape can sometimes leave few scars.
Don't get me wrong. Sexual abuse is abuse. And bashing is bashing, for that matter. But when abuse is seen for what I believe it is, we shall stop trying to load its consequences onto one small part of the territory, and grotesquely distorting reality in the process.
We may even begin to pay quality attention to what we are doing in our relationships – especially with children.
The idyllic, "pure", childhood created for us by Walt Disney and the Readers' Digest, among other cultural sculptors, has become so sacred that to challenge the concept still risks professional and social odium, and the strong suspicion that one's own motives are not beyond reproach. I am nevertheless suggesting that the concept does need examining. I think it is ultimately harmful to those we would honour.
(1) If we properly understand the implications of reincarnation, it changes totally our relationship with our children.
Da Avad Wudhi