There can be no keener revelation of a society’s soul than the way in which it treats its children.

– Nelson Mandela –

I remember the tears that came unexpectedly while sitting at my cousin’s wedding. No, it wasn’t the vows or the beautiful bride…although she certainly was beautiful! They came at a point in the ceremony that typically announces things are beginning, but doesn’t carry much weighty emotion. My cousin was simply ushering his mother,  my aunt, to her place of honor in the front row. She looked happy and beautiful. He looked like a typical groom – dapper in the rented tuxedo and a bit nervous. It was the song that broke me into a million pieces – You were the wind beneath my wings… Of course, I had seen the movie it came from (Beaches), and heard Bette Midler sing it many times on the radio. It was a song about friends, right??? Or was it…

I saw a mother and a son. Although, it could have been a father or a daughter or an entire family. I saw her pride as she looked at her little boy – all grown up. No doubt her thoughts were a composite of memories – his accomplishments, his pains, her fears, her hopes, his hopes, his dreams, her dreams…

The song said it all –

Did you ever know that you’re my hero?

You’re everything I wish I could be.

I could fly higher than an eagle,

’cause you are the wind beneath my wings.

We watched the movie Parental Guidance last weekend. The grandparents were coming to take care of the kids for a few days. The parents were worried that Grandma and Grandpa would ruin their children and their perfectly constructed lives if they said or did the wrong thing…which they did over and over again. Oh no, not intentionally! Rather, it was out of ignorance to the philosophy of raising children that the parents embraced – a philosophy that insidiously valued self over others.

Recent events in Kansas City resulted in teens being taken into custody because a community curfew was violated. Parents protested that the curfew was silly; that a movie theater was at fault because a movie time resulted in the children being out after the curfew; that traffic on the street  caused a mother to be late in picking up her daughter; and that the police profiled the kids for political reasons. No one took responsibility for the fact that the children (teens…) were in an area that had a curfew (for teens…) and they were out after the curfew. No one seemed to see how they could have avoided a problem by understanding the law, realizing it was for a good greater than their desires, and taking appropriate measures to live within the law. What they thought about the value of the law was not the question.

Back to Nelson Mandela. What does the way we treat our children say about our society?

Our faith calls us to live within the belief that we indeed love God above all things. When we truly embrace that belief, we cannot help but ooze gratitude for the abundance of God’s love for us. In turn, we then cannot help but to love God’s creation (our neighbor) as ourselves. After all, God not only created everything, God paused to see that all of it was “good”…everything…even the people we don’t like, brussel sprouts and mosquitoes.

So – how do we treat our children? What does it say about the soul of our society? Of course there is a balance here. Some children live in horrific conditions and that has to change. But what about the other children – the ones who have solid homes and families to guide them? What direction are they learning to look? Towards their own comfort? Or towards others with compassion? Are they taught to respect others rights and opinions – even when they seem different or odd? To share their time to help others? Even at home? Are they learning how to accept consequences for their actions and, even more importantly, how to think through a situation to avoid unwanted consequences?

As a society we must do the same.

Do we want our society’s soul to be a place where people care for others – where compassion and relationships are the norm and we all work for the common good? (Of course, there will be times when we have different views on the common good! Mr Mandela had a quote for that as well, “A good leader can engage in a debate frankly and thoroughly, knowing that at the end he and the other side must be closer, and thus emerge stronger. You don’t have that idea when you are arrogant, superficial and uninformed.”)  What do our children need to know to be responsible members of society and good leaders? Are the choices we make for them today leading toward that goal?

The wind beneath my wings? We need to teach our children to soar – to become all that they were created to be. But, as we do that, let us never forget Mr Mandela’s caution that the soul of our society will be a direct result of how we treat our children. The wind beneath them? It’s up to you.