Saturday, December 15, 2012

Times Change, Minds Change

I was doing some homework for my history class tonight when I came across this little tidbit:
In 1833, children under the age of nine were forbidden from working in underground mines. Workdays for children between the ages of nine and thirteen were limited to nine hours a day.
My thought process went something like this:
1. Underground mines? Are there any other kind?
2. Nine? That's Weston's age!
3. Wait a second, I've read this before.
Back in fourth grade, I did my History Fair project on child labor laws. It was the most intense research project I'd done up to that point. I read through books and articles and looked at pictures like these:
Miners on break.
Miners at work. They were my age.

                                    Now I'm this age.

I was ten, reading about ten year olds working in mines. And it didn't really affect me. I was greatful I didn't have to live like that, of course. But it was a specific problem belonging to that kid in that picture. I'd think, "That's horrible for them." Not, "That's horrible. How could they do that to little kids?"
At age ten, I would read this and think of people. Now I'm sixteen and think of my little brother.
Of course, there is still child labor going on in the world. And child massacres, child slavery, and child abuse, and child prostitution, earthquakes that injure children...the list marches on. There have always been problems in the world. There are no good old days. There is no tragic past to shadow the bright future. It's all life and life marches on.
When we get older, the rift between 'us' and 'them' gets wider. We don't see them quite as people anymore. Every new story of the horrors inflicted on children cuts us, more so than the daily stream of murders and car bombings we see on TV each day. We pity them and want to reach out.
But we loose that understanding of what exactly it's like to be young.
So many people think children are unaffected. That when a tragedy happens, they'll be sitting on the couch, staring blankly at the screen as they ask their parents questions. Why did somebody do that? How could this happen?
But aren't adults asking the same questions?
The truth is, children have a unique capacity to view everyone equally. Hearing about kids getting shot in a Connecticut school feels the same as adults shot at a movie theater in Colorado.
And don't they get the same answers?
I don't know, sweetie. I just don't know.

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