Organizing Principle, Catalytic Power
"We are conducting a vast toxicological experiment in which the research animals are our children."
—Dr. Philip Landrigan, Center for Children's Health and the Environment
"The feeling appropriate to an infant in arms is his feeling of rightness, or essential goodness… that he is right, good and welcome in the world."
—Jean Liedloff, The Continuum Concept
Early Childhood – Seeing Our Essential Humanity
Across all cultures, we find an essential humanity that is most visible in early childhood—a playful, intelligent and creative way of being. Early experience lasts a lifetime. It shapes our sense of self and how we see others; it also shapes our sense of what’s possible, our view of the world. The impressionable early years are the most vulnerable to family dynamics, cultural values, and planetary conditions. At this critical point in the history of humankind, the irreducible needs of all children (no matter where they live) can offer a unifying ethic by which the cultures of our interdependent world might reorder their priorities.
Child Honouring is a vision, an organizing principle, and a way of life—a revolution in values that calls for a profound redesign of every sphere of society.
It starts with three givens. First, the primacy of the early years—early childhood is the gateway to humane being. Second, we face planetary degradation unprecedented in scope and scale, a state of emergency that most endangers the very young, and that requires a remedy of equal scale. And third, the crisis calls for a systemic response in detoxifying the environments that make up the ecology of the child.
In this way, Child Honouring is a "children first" approach to healing communities and restoring ecosystems; it views how we regard and treat our young as the key to building humane and sustainable world. (It’s not about a child-centered society where children rule, nor a facile notion of children being all things nice; and it has nothing to do with permissive parenting.) It is a global credo for maximizing joy and reducing suffering by respecting the goodness of every human being at the beginning of life, with benefits rippling in all directions.
It’s a novel idea—organizing society around the needs of its youngest members. Just as startling is the finding of neuroscience that a lifetime of behaviors is largely shaped by the age of four, and that, developmentally speaking, the pre-school years are more important than the school years. In the words of the Council on Human Development (Greenspan, Shanker), " Early childhood is the most important time in a human being's development."
What does it mean to honour children?
What does it mean to honour children? It means seeing them for the creatively intelligent people they are, respecting their personhood as their own, recognizing them as essential members of the community and providing the fundamental nurturance they need in order to flourish. Child Honouring connects the dots between the personal, cultural and planetary factors that affect formative growth, and asserts that sustainability strategies must take into account all three domains.
Children are not a partisan concern, and Child Honouring is not pitted against person or ideology. Its allegiance is to children, and to their families. It speaks emphatically for the birthright of children of every culture to love, dignity and security. At the same time, it encompasses the whole of life. The focus on early life simply underscores a key tenet—the primacy of the early years.
Child Honouring ultimately means living in reverence with the mystery of Creation. In our quantum universe where everything is interrelated, the child is a " holon," something which is both " whole," and a part of something bigger. Just as in quantum physics observation affects outcome, so too in human relations; with respect to the very young, regard shapes development. How we regard a child is the vital mirror with which that child's innate potential comes alive.
Children who feel seen, loved and honoured are far more able to become loving parents and productive citizens later on. Children who do not feel valued are inordinately represented on welfare rolls and police records. Much of the criminal justice system deals with the results of childhood wounding (the vast majority of sexual offenders were themselves violated as children), and much of the social service sector represents an attempt to rectify or moderate this damage which comes at an enormous cost to society. Most of it is too little, too late.
The Child Honouring Lens
Child Honouring is a corrective lens that, once we look through it, allows us to question everything from the way we measure economic progress to our stewardship of the planet; from our physical treatment of children to the corporate impact on their minds and bodies; from unthinking consumerism to factory schooling. It offers a proactive developmental approach to creating sustainable societies. As a creed that crosses all faiths and cultures, Child Honouring can become a potent remedy for the most challenging issues of our time.
The essence of the vision is expressed in A Covenant for Honouring Children and its underlying principles. The approach is precautionary: " first do no harm," the physicians’ oath, can become a nonviolent mantra for all of society. The spirit is invitational, a call to imagine and create a diversity of child-friendly cultures.
Child Honouring in Action
The child-honouring society I imagine would show love for its children in every facet of its design and organization. It would uphold the basic human rights of every child. Corporal punishment would be a thing of the past. No child would live in neglect or lack access to health care. Kids wouldn’t be alone after school with violent computer games, eating junk food, waiting for a parent to get home. You’d see family support centers in every neighborhood. Working with the young would be valued and well rewarded. Universally available child care centers would be staffed by trained professionals. We’d have more schools and teachers, smaller class sizes, and a range of learning options for families to choose from. We’d teach child development as a primary subject as fundamental as reading, writing, and arithmetic; children would learn about the importance of empathy and the basics of nurturant parenting.
A child-honouring world would honour the central place of women in life and have an proportionate share of women in decision-making roles. Women would become patrons and architects of sustainable design. "Mother’s milk legislation" would detoxify the chemical industry. We’d breathe better thanks to strict clean air laws. Ecological economics would accelerate a full-fledged renaissance in business. We’d have a triple bottom line economy in which social and environmental costs are factored into the full cost of doing business; a "quality of life index" that measures what matters most; subsidy and tax shifts towards clean energies, sustainable practices, and innovative enterprise; and a political cycle not geared primarily towards re-election. We’d have a culture that rewards elected representatives for long-term wisdom rather than short-term power.
To address the dramatic rise in children’s asthma and the body burden of toxic compounds now in blood and in breast milk, a "child-friendly protocol for commerce" worldwide would breathe new life into public health. Organic farmers would play a leading role in protecting the world’s food security. Engineers would compete for the most benign industrial compounds and manufacturing processes. Corporate charter reforms would herald a new dawn of responsible commerce in which CEOs and shareholders would be truly accountable to the public good. Released from the Midas curse, we could be free to work towards our highest aspirations.
Humanity must choose its future in a race against time.
Urgently we need to create a culture of deep compassion in which the primacy of the early years guides public policy, in which the admired life blends material sufficiency with more noble aims. One in which our children pledge allegiance to Mother Earth and learn to become responsible global citizens. In which corporate ingenuity is redirected to profit all shareholders of our planet. In which "the good life" and "living large" speak not to our purchasing power but to the quality of our existence—our relationships with one another and with nature. In which our economy (as a subset of nature) becomes a means to this end, not an end in itself. A culture that puts self-confidence ahead of consumer confidence. One that supports the emotional intelligence of its young.
The compassionate revolution needs you—parents and educators, CEOs and policy makers, grandparents and youth, social justice activists and environmentalists, NGOs and health professionals, scientists and faith leaders. Take an oath to live by Child Honouring principles in your own life, and to infuse them in our institutions. Let the transformative power of Child Honouring strengthen the global civil society. Join the wave to restore our children’s stolen future, to make this the world of their dreams as well as ours.
"We must turn this world around," Nelson Mandela said, "for the children."
We have that power.