A generation ago, in Kidpower’s early years, I sometimes asked children in our workshops, “Do you think that most people are good or bad?”
To my surprise and sadness, many of them said, “Bad!”
How, I asked myself, can it possibly make children’s lives better if they believe that most people might try to harm them?
Using our teaching strategy to avoid asking our students questions we might not like the answers to, we started telling children with joyful conviction, “At Kidpower, we believe most people are GOOD! Yes, some people act unsafely. We don’t need to worry because we can keep ourselves safe most of the time if we know what to do. So, let’s practice!”
As the kids have fun practicing, their adults sigh with relief as we show them how to teach about safety with people without instilling fear.
Although we believe in telling children the truth, we don’t believe in telling them the worst parts of the most awful truths. In order to avoid overwhelming kids with too much negative information, we recommend shielding them from the intense endless barrage of upsetting stories on the news.
In order to be truthful, though, we adults need to be able to believe ourselves that “Most people are GOOD!” But sometimes the bad things that happen can make it harder to hang onto this belief.
In addition to being careful about the kinds of information we inflict on kids, we also need to protect ourselves from becoming overwhelmed with horrifying details and images. If we are not careful, our joy in life can drown in the heartbreaking stories about all the harmful ways that some people act towards others, not to mention all the other terrible ways that our lives and our planet can be destroyed.
Long ago, I was struck with despair when I came home from my first self-defense workshop in 1986. Filled with sorrow at the stories of the women in my class who had been raped, abused, and tormented, I walked into the living room, saw my perfect eight-year-old daughter, pulled her into my lap, and burst into tears.
“What’s the matter, Mommy?” my child asked calmly, used to her emotional mother.
As my tears dripped into her hair, I didn’t tell her much, but I did tell her the truth. I said gently, “It’s just that you’re such a wonderful kid. And I wish I could give you a better world to live in.”
“It’s all right, Mommy,” she said cheerfully. “Let’s look at it THIS way! If we lived in the time of the dinosaurs, we’d ALL have to worry about being eaten, ALL the time!”
Comforted, I laughed, regaining my perspective that our world has never been a safe, perfect place – and it doesn’t have to be in order to be a very good place. Some things are worse than they used to be. Many things are amazingly better. Some things are just different. And our job is to do our best in the midst of all of it.
As my wise child had said, “Let’s look at it THIS way!”
Let’s look at how we trust our lives to thousands of people on the road every year – and most of them try to drive safely and responsibly instead of crashing into us.
Let’s look at the outpouring of support from countless people when a story of misery, trauma, or tragedy touches their hearts.
We might not know what to do to solve many of our world’s woes – but let’s look at the way lots of us are surely trying our best to do what we can!
As we have grown in our understanding, let’s look at how far more people today believe that bullying, violence, prejudice, and abuse are wrong instead of accepting that this is “just the way things are.” Not enough yet – but far more than there used to be.
As far as I can tell, most people, most places, want to live happy, healthy, safe, meaningful lives with their loved ones – and to allow others to do the same.
In my experience, most people will act compassionately if they are face-to-face with someone in need whose behavior does not upset them – and if they know what to do.
Not everyone, but MOST people!
And I think this is BECAUSE, “Most people are GOOD!”
And this is also why I am so committed to Kidpower. In addition to believing that most people are good, learning, using, and teaching Kidpower skills are active ways of doing good. By supporting the growth of safe, powerful, respectful behavior in ourselves and in others, we can make our world a better place to live.
Published: August 26, 2014 | Last Updated: June 2, 2016