Ask, ‘How Are the Children?’
New Rule: Ask “HOW ARE THE CHILDREN?’
Thank you to Reverend Patrick T. O’Neill for this story. Skip Olsen and I reprinted this story in our Trainer’s Companion book published by AhaProcess in 2004. We thought it was an important beginning. As the polarization continues over many issues in our country and the world, I am increasingly concerned that we are losing sight of some of the most important issues of our time. As a long time educator, I see children as a critical future resource.
Educators are working hard – overworking in many cases. Many times they are diverted by the multiple demands on them and the system. We sometimes forget why we want to go into education. John Merrow said 80-90% go into education because they want to make a difference. That is hard to remember at times when the demands outweigh the demands. As author and Holocaust survivor Viktor Frankl said, “We can live with the how if we know the why.” Let’s not forget the ‘why.’
David Walsh (1994) included a quote from a Cree Elder in his book that seems to fit here: “Children are the purpose of life. We were once children and someone cared for us.” Now it is our time to care for our children. So, my question is, ‘how are we caring for our children?’ The following story illustrates what I mean.
This story is an example of how a community can keep a major concept in mind during the daily grind. The Masai culture transmits a primary goal through oral communication. As you read the story, you will understand how the important goal is kept alive and distributed through daily conversations.
THE STORY: ‘HOW ARE THE CHILDREN?’
Among the many accomplished and fabled tribes of Africa, no tribe was considered to have warriors more fearsome or more intelligent than the mighty Masai. It is perhaps surprising then to learn the traditional greeting that passed between Masai warriors. “Kasserian Ingera,” one would always say to another. It means ’And how are the children?’
It is still the traditional greeting among the Masai, acknowledging the high value that the Masai place on their children’s well-being. Even warriors with no children of their own would always give the traditional answer, “All the children are well.” This meant, of course, that peace and safety prevail; that the priorities of protecting the young and the powerless are in place; that the Masai people have not forgotten their reason for being, their proper function, and their responsibilities. “All the children are well” means that life is good. It means that the daily struggles of existence, even among poor people, include the proper care of the young and defenseless.
I wonder how it might affect our consciousness or our own children’s welfare if, in our own culture, we took to greeting each other with the same daily question, ’And how are the children?’ I wonder if we heard that question and passed it along to each other a dozen times a day if it would begin to make a difference in the reality of how children are thought of or cared for in this country …
I wonder what it would be like if every adult among us – parents and non-parents alike – felt an equal weight of responsibility for the daily care and protection of all the children in our town, in our state, in our country. I wonder if we could truly say without hesitation, “The children are well; yes, all the children are well.”
What would it be like? If the president began every press conference, every public appearance, by answering the question: “And how are the children, Mr. President?” If every governor of every state had to answer the same question at every press conference: “And how are the children, Governor? Are they well?”
Wouldn’t it be interesting to hear their answers?
–Excerpt from a speech by the Rev. Patrick T. O’Neill
Olsen, S. & Sommers, W. (2004) A trainer’s companion: stories for conversations, reflection, and action. Baytown, TX: AhaProcess, Inc.
Walsh, David. Selling Out America’s Children. Minneapolis: Fairview, 1994.