By Briana Brady—Asst. Features Editor
I have spent nearly every afternoon for the past seven years working with young, marginalized scholars at a local community center in Chattanooga. The after-school program that I volunteer at spans far beyond academics or day-to-day drop-ins; the relationships I’ve formed over the years with the children and their families are deep, powerful, and meaningful forces in my life.
While I have had the privilege of getting to know so many profound folks through my involvement over the years, those that I spend the most time with are the children that are the heartbeat of the program, the scholars whose brains give each afternoon life and purpose. Whether it be through reading, working on homework, or even just talking about our days with one another, I have come to deeply appreciate all that children have to teach our greater society; they never cease to remind us what we may have lost over the years of our lives. Below lays out my top-five list of what children have to teach us “adults:”
- Life is fleeting. Live in the moment. – Children understand the power in each moment, the opportunity in each breath, and the importance of each word and feeling. Perhaps more quickly than anyone, they recognize (and are not afraid to say) when we might be upset or missing out on something we could be enjoying if we could set aside our own matters for a moment.
- We can, and should, never stop learning. – The opportunity that I have to partner with scholars on academic work each day reminds me on a very visceral level what it feels like to try so hard to understand something that just doesn’t come naturally to me. Children, though, learn alongside us. We certainly don’t have all the answers, and their questions and curiosities remind us that we, too, have so much left to learn. In my opinion, learning should be a lifelong endeavor, and children are always there to motivate us to treat it as such.
- Patience is a gift. – I mean this in a literal and figurative sense. Not only do children sometimes prompt us to exercise a bit of patience, but they also remind us that giving someone else your time, your energy, your best efforts, and your love are gifts in the form of being patient and kind to one another. We can all use a little more patience towards ourselves, but we also need reminders to be patient with others. Each person is walking her own path with her own set of circumstances, and in giving each other patience and understanding, perhaps we can help ease the bumps along the journey.
- Our preconceived notions about one another are often wrong. – While there are always exceptions to this rule, I am constantly inspired by the unassuming nature of children. Their qualities fascinate me, because I am reminded that somewhere between childhood and the teenage years, we all pick up on so many social stereotypes, expectations, and judgments about folks we’ve never even met. Yet children have a unique ability to look past the stereotypes that plague our society; they see beyond the external self into the internal self. Further, they offer a timely reminder that behaviors are taught and learned, and adults have the power to shape the behaviors of our most vulnerable who will soon lead our society, maybe even right alongside us.
- The way we treat others matters. It really matters. – The scholars in the after-school program are constantly reminded of how important it is to show respect towards one another, no matter the qualms they might hold against someone. I think that this lesson is perhaps most important of all, because let’s face it, no one can like or be liked by everyone. But what we can all do is respect one another despite disagreements or differences of opinion. Children understand this inherently, I think. While they may not call it respect, namely, children know when they have hurt someone’s feelings. They express how it feels to be made fun of. They are unafraid to tell someone that they don’t understand. All in all, these aspects of children’s personalities allude to vulnerability, honesty, and ultimately, empathy. And can’t we all use a little more of that?
As can be seen in that list, I treasure every moment I share with the children involved in the local after-school scholars program, and I feel that most children I encounter in general exhibit the same aforementioned qualities. So, next time a child speaks to you or to someone else, really listen to what they have to say. Observe and internalize the lessons that they have to offer us, for they are society’s perpetual joy and light.