How To Help Children Speak Truth To Power
I have been preoccupied with the concept of speaking truth to power, so much so that I wrote a brief guide for adults. Now, I’m turning my attention to children: How do we teach them to speak it, how do we foster it? In what ways might we be shutting them down?
It’s critical to figure this out if we are going to counter the fear of speaking truth to power, whisper it, or even think it. It’s a condition that has gripped those who paradoxically wield power and are themselves too cowardly to speak truth to those they have granted it to.
Democracy depends on our bravery.
Like all behavior we want to see in others, we have to begin with self. And, like every new habit we want to embrace, we have to practice it. I had an unexpected opportunity with our twin grandsons last year when they were six-years old.
On our weekly school pick-up and chatty drive to my home, Simon offered from the back seat: "I like it best when my mommy or daddy pick us up." My ego felt a momentary sting. Then, I considered this young child, still free of society's unspoken rules of ego engagement, sacred cows, and artificially-imposed protections we place on one another.
I didn't want to shame, confuse, or silence his truth. Quieting my ego: "I understand. They are your mommy and daddy and you love them the most. I understand.
After a few beats of silence, I offered: “I'm very glad to see you." I could see Simon and Lucas smile in the rear view mirror. They continued alternating their animated volley about what they learned at school. “Did you know that rocks are made of minerals?” one of them breathlessly said. “Rocks stick up from the bottom of caves and they're called stalagmites," the other chimed in. "The ones that come down are called stalactites.” And so on.
They dashed from the car to my house where we played our hallway game of “Bubbe May I” (our version of Mother May I): “Take 3 stalactite steps forward.” We watched Michael Jackson Moon Walk because they loved listening to his music in my car. We made pancakes for dinner.
On the drive to their home, we offered gratitudes as a way to redirect their hyped-up energy.
"I am grateful for my mommy and daddy for taking care of me," Simon said as the sun was setting. I'm grateful that you keep us safe." "Thank you," I said.