One of the ways I initiate lessons about courage is by asking my students to describe the qualities of a hero and heroine. Because of our culture’s addiction to violence through television, movies and video games, some children come up with images of super heroes who overpower evil enemies with high tech weapons. But I soon shift their attention by asking how peacemakers like Mother Teresa, Gandhi, and Martin Luther King are heroes. They are asked to find heroes in literature and real life who don’t use violence.
As they come back with their findings, the children’s perception of heroic qualities expands. Then I ask them how they are a hero or heroine in their own lives. Soon they are eagerly sharing the time when they overcame a fear of heights and stood on the top rung of the jungle gym. They describe how they handled their disappointment of not getting a lead part in the school play, or how they wouldn’t join in with other kids who were making fun of a new student. As they list their own heroic qualities, they begin to see how they are heroes in their everyday lives.
To nurture a child’s courage and wisdom, we must take the time to truly listen to each child’s visions and heroic actions. And we need to affirm children when they act selflessly and teach them that service to the Whole is the purpose of a true hero.
Demonstrating brotherhood and cooperation cannot come until every child can courageously stand in their own truth. I tell children that to walk the path of a hero, they will be tested, and will need to develop courage to bring about peaceful change in the hearts of others. They will meet adversaries and will need to cultivate allies. When I ask young children to draw their allies, they inevitably draw pets, friends, parents, and other family members who love them. Young children are very honest about who is their adversary. Perhaps it’s the bully on the playground, an overly strict teacher, or a scary bus driver. It is never a dull class when they are telling stories of encountering their adversaries! Sometimes their adversary appears in the form of a human, a monster in the closet, or the darkness of the night. There is much laughter, intent listening, and silent nodding of heads, as the children share their fears and challenges.
Children can begin to see their own everyday ‘tests of courage’ as opportunities to develop inner strength. They will be eager to help each other with solutions they have used to overcome their personal difficulties. We can help them see their lives as heroic quests, whether that means getting on the school bus for the first time, or reading a report in front of the class. Neither are small tasks for our budding heroes.
If we do not help children listen inwardly to their hearts, and learn to discern their true allies, society will supply them with models who speak to their egos. They will be offered the shallow promises of a materialistic society that reduces a child’s heroic nature and shapes it into a ‘good consumer.’ The emphasis will be on what ‘I want,’ not what ‘we want.’ We will cripple their spirits and set obstacles before them that sabotage their mandate to bring us into the era of brotherhood, sharing, and cooperation. When a child’s heroic nature is denied, and their vision quest is abandoned, they suffer great anguish. Their journey toward reawakening can often be long and painful. We can no longer afford the cost of recovering the damaged souls of misled children. Their beauty and consciousness are needed now. We stand at a turning point in earth’s history. If we are to be allies to our children, we must find the courage deep within ourselves to become more conscious beings so that we can open our hearts to each other.