Robert Coles: “Children Consider Human Conflict”
Trent Gilliss, Online Editor
As promised in our show with Robert Coles, “The Inner Lives of Children,” we are finally able to bring you the video of Robert Coles’ Lowell Lecture at Harvard Extension School in April 2008. We had a few technical difficulties and permissions procedures to clear, but we think it’s worth the hour. In particular, he talks about his first encounter with Ruby Bridges in New Orleans, and his subsequent conversations with her.
If you’d like to take the video on the road, you can download the file from Harvard’s presence on iTunes U.
Robert Coles on the Spiritual Intuition of Children
» download (mp3, 5:38)
Shiraz Janjua, Associate Producer
As promised, here’s preview audio for our upcoming program with Robert Coles, a child psychiatrist who often deals with the spiritual lives of children. Originally, he was a prominent voice in an older Speaking of Faith program, Children and God. I believe that was just the second episode of SOF I ever listened to, and I remember loving it, yet apparently the program was beginning to show its age. The program also featured three voices. Back then, they said a radio program with just one long interview for one entire hour was a crazy idea. It’ll never work!
Kate and Rob listened to Robert Coles’ full interview with Krista again, and were convinced we had to bring this back to air as a one-voice show, taking it completely back to the drawing board and producing a new show from it. Here’s a rough tidbit from the new program we’re producing. Enjoy! The full program is scheduled for the first week of January.
Editor’s Note: You can now listen to the entire program on the Web site for “Robert Coles and the Inner Lives of Children.”
Trent Gilliss, Online Editor
I have to express my excitement about the show we have scheduled for podcast release on New Year’s Day. Back in 2000, Krista sat with the wonderfully insightful and heartwarmingly endearing child psychiatrist Robert Coles.
A small part of this 60-minute interview was incorporated into the show “Children and God.” This show single-handedly made a SOF superfan out of me. And, it wasn’t until recently that Krista mentioned that she spoke with him for a full hour. Hearing that was a revelation, and thank goodness Rob listened to it and recommended him for a new show, a fresh production.
Eight years later, his ideas about children’s curiosity about understanding the world and their innate spiritual sensibilities — and that they are witnesses to events and behaviors and ideas — resound so much more loudly now than when I originally heard him. Not only because I’m a father now, but more so because I’m a working witness to the economic downturn who’s asking himself basic questions about trust and need and responsibility.
We’ll be posting some preview clips from the program. I can’t wait for you to hear it.
A Toddler’s Capacity to Forgive
Rob McGinley Myers, Associate Producer
This past weekend, I kept mulling over the content of our recent show, “Getting Revenge and Forgiveness” — especially what Michael McCullough said about how easily parents forgive their children.
I forgive my seven-year-old son every day. … Because he’s an active, inquisitive seven-year-old who sometimes accidentally elbows me in the mouth when we’re cuddling and sometimes puts Crayons on the walls. And yet it seems demeaning to call it forgiveness. … It’s just what you do with your children. You know, you accept their limitations and you move on.
As a father of two toddlers, the thing that amazes me is not how easily parents forgive their children, but how easily children forgive their parents. Every parent I know has had moments of utter exasperation and impatience with their kids that they later regretted. But when our children are little, they have an extraordinary capacity to forgive our mistakes. Krista once wrote about a Hebrew proverb that says “just before a child is born, the angel Gabriel tells her everything — all the secrets of God and the universe. Then he kisses her on the forehead, and she begins to forget it all.” So it seems that, though our children will forget it by adolescence, they are apparently born knowing the secret of forgiveness.
The poet Robyn Sarah sums it up perfectly for me in her poem Nursery, 11:00 p.m. The speaker of the poem describes coming to the end of a day when she’s been a terrible parent, wishing she could apologize for how she behaved, standing over her children as they sleep in their cribs. She likens the forgiving sound of their breathing to a shawl being knitted in the darkness.
How warm it is, I think,
how much softer
than my deserving.
Language Reclamation, Not Just Preservation
by Rob McGinley Myers, associate producer
What inspires a person to learn the language of his ancestors, even though he didn’t grow up speaking that language himself? And what inspires him to join a school where he can teach that language to children? What do those children think about the language? And what affect can the effort have on an entire community?
These were a few of the questions I had for Keller Paap, a teacher in an Ojibwe immersion school program called Waadookodaading (We Help Each Other) on the Lac Courte Oreilles Reservation in north-central Wisconsin. I got in touch with Paap while I was working on our recent program “Sustaining Language, Sustaining Meaning.” You can hear his story in the embedded audio above. He begins by introducing himself in Ojibwe.
What I gleaned from talking to Paap was that this language revitalization effort is doing more than merely preserving the language. It’s literally keeping the language alive so that it can continue to grow and change, with new words and new ways of saying things. I love the way he describes his students’ relationship to the language. They aren’t dwelling on the long-standing U.S. policy of forcibly educating Native Americans in English. They aren’t learing Ojibwe as a political act or even as a cultural act. They’re just living in it, and making it their own.
This audio piece was produced with help from Trent Gilliss and Mitch Hanley. Music by Brian Blade & the Fellowship Band. Keller Paap took the photo of the Ojibwe road sign, which translates as “The Dam.”
Spirit of Language
Rob McGinley Myers, Associate Producer
As we prepare to do a show on endangered languages, I’ve been thinking a lot about the intersection of language and spirituality. This came up recently with my three-year-old daughter, who has been asking about death since we buried her fish in our back yard. We were driving across town the other day and she said out of nowhere, “Daddy, when will be my last day?” Meaning, When will I die? After a moment of panic, I decided to talk to her about various views of death from different religious traditions. But I quickly realized that she has no knowledge of the words “spirit” or “soul,” and so it was impossible for her to even grasp that concept. In her mind, she is just a body, nothing more, nothing less. And yet, in due time, the English language will give her a concept of the soul, and with it a whole new conception of her self.
Just learning a language is, in part, acquiring a spiritual worldview. And that would explain why religion and language have so often been intertwined in the history of Western civilization. When Johannes Gutenberg invented the printing press in the 1450s, the first book he printed was the Bible. A generation later, Martin Luther sparked the Protestant Reformation, and he also produced the first complete translation of the Bible from the original into a contemporary European vernacular. In 1533 Henry VIII broke with Rome and created the Church of England. The result was a whole new English liturgy, with phrases that have since lodged in most English-speaking brains: “Till death us do part,” “Man cometh up, and is cut down, like a flower,” “In the midst of life we are in death,” and “Ashes to ashes, dust to dust.”
When I think of all the spiritual concepts bound up in my own language, it’s hard to believe that (according to organizations like The Living Tongues Institute) languages around the world are dying at a rate of about one every two weeks. What conceptions of humanity and our place in the world are being lost? I’d be interested to know if any of you have learned any rare languages, and if so what unique ways do those languages have of ordering the world with words?