‘The world should be a better place’, sighed the Philosopher, having heard some news that confused his youthful sense of righteousness.
‘What would a Good world look like?’ I asked, always keen to listen to the musings of his bright mind, while at the same time hiding an adult’s patronising smile. The obvious answer would be, I said to myself, a world with fairness, justice and equality. But he surprised me, as he so often does, and gave a much more descriptive answer after a few moments of thought.
‘It would be a much more advanced world, more fun to be in, less stressful, and… nice!’
Nice? What does that mean here? I wondered. Well, ‘nice’ in his world, it turns out, means ‘when you are able to enjoy what you do and don’t need to work constantly’. ‘Interesting,’ I said, ‘so how do we get to that world? What is needed to build this ideal world?’ He was ready with his answer. ‘Everybody should be encouraged to do what they are good at and people should get appreciated for their work, for doing good and helping others. People would get credit for their work.’ And how, I wondered, would they get paid for their work? ‘In a perfect world there is no money’ he declared.
I smiled to myself again, not patronisingly this time but humbly accepting my lesson. I had listened to him describe a better world and listened to how he developed his thought, holding my tongue from making statements on what a ‘good world’ should be like. He described the world he imagined and how fairness and justice would be expressed in it, rather than spitting out well-meaning concepts that are hollow without a context.
I thought, this is how it should be, we should listen to the thought process of the young, to what they deem important instead of making statements, teaching ‘values’. Then I read David Birch’s words in Provocations – Philosophy for Secondary School: “Encouraging pupils to question the world helps them see that it is something to be customised rather than complied with”. ‘Exactly!’ I thought, let the kids imagine a better world as they see it, not as we think it should be, and encourage them to build it to the best possible, not to settle for the imperfections we leave them.
I am learning to be quiet and listen. To muzzle my urge to give an answer, to think I as the adult know what is right. I’m sure you already do too. But have you ever found yourself in the position where you as the adult reflexively just want to declare the ‘right’ answer to a question? If instead we just give them time to think and listen to their way of seeing, we might actually learn something about them – and about ourselves, our assumptions. And if we listen carefully, the answer we wanted to give might be in there already, but in a better way than we could imagine.