Apart from all the challenges that children are exposed to in the artificially simulated world in which they live, they must also face the challenges thrust on them by life.
When confronting stress, our children lack both the environment and the equipment necessary to handle stress efficiently.
What is the environment in which a child is placed today? In their fast-paced lives that revolve around endless goals to chase, they have neither the time nor the mental space to allow themselves to feel the impact of a trauma.
The first step in confronting stress involves allowing oneself to feel and internalize the trauma. It is only when we internalize reality and generate without resistance the unpleasant feelings that may be induced by this reality, that our mind is pushed to rise and respond to this trauma.
One must allow oneself to fall when one is wounded. It is when we fall and feel our wounds, that we become aware of their intensity and nature. It is only then that we tend to them in the most appropriate manner. It is only then that they heal and we rise. We rise, learning what we are capable of, and what we are not. We rise, discovering strengths we never knew lay within us, discovering weaknesses that we had never recognized as limitations. We rise with awareness of reality. And this rising is what life calls for.
But our children no longer have the time or space to allow themselves to feel. They cannot afford to fall, for then they fall out of the rat race. So they run with their wounds, numbing themselves to the urgency of these wounds. Our children learn the easiest way of handling stress- they avoid feeling the pain caused by the trauma. They anaesthetise their wounds and run, not realizing that though the pain is dampened, the wound is a reality. They run, oblivious to the wound that cannot endure much more. Then they fall, unable to get up ever again.
This avoidance response to stress is becoming increasingly common in our children today, causing significant harm to their psychological development.
In addition to the lack of time and space to feel, our children also lack the emotional resources that are necessary to process negative emotions.
The most important emotional resources are human beings themselves. Our fellow human beings can teach us much through the sharing of experiences. We unconsciously learn from our fellow human beings the art of dealing with the challenges in life. Family and friends are the most important emotional resources. However, our children no longer engage in heart-to-heart conversations with family and friends. They are taught to build high walls in a competitive world, therefore having no access to other lives.
The alternatives are stories- our literature and our films. Literature is the chronicling of human experience, and our children have much to learn from stories. But reading is a forgotten hobby. Our children have lost the ability to read anything that exceeds their limited attention span. Also, reading has transformed into goal-directed behaviour. There is no longer the ability to engage with a book, unsure of what one might find. Our children are taught to choose books that aid them in their competition. All other books are tagged as worthless. Once upon a time, there was perhaps not a human being who did not love stories. Today, we are breeding an entire generation that has lost the ability to revel in stories and be moved by them. As for films, our children prefer entertainers over emotionally enriching films.
They refuse to engage with anything that involves slow, meaningful perception for they have lost the ability to savour this category of perception.
The consequence is that our children resort to practised numbness- a phenomenon that eventually becomes a permanent part of their personality and behaviour. Unable to be enthralled by the simple joys in life, unable to nurture a fantasy, unable to dream, our children resort to instant gratification. Drugs and alcohol are the solutions they take refuge in. Shopping sprees, chocolate binging, addiction to the internet and to gadgets- these are all addictions that our children seek in order to merely ‘feel alive’. They are so numb that they need such high pleasure acts to feel anything at all. The failure of relationships that we see today, is also a reflection of this numbness.
Numbness is the epidemic of the modern world. Even in the context of mental illnesses, where our mental illnesses were once to do with emotional excesses and overt fantasy, today they are to do with emotional deficiency and with lack of a fantasy.
‘Depression’ is a fashionable label that science ascribes to such diseases. In the language of literature, depression is the inability to feel the beauty in life- the inability to be enthralled or moved by the simple phenomena in life. If the current trend continues, it wouldn’t be long before human beings are replaced by robots- highly intelligent beings with the inability to feel anything at all.
What we need is not treatment of depression with antidepressants, but preservation and revival of the human spirit- of its extraordinary potential to feel, fantasise and dream.
So where do we begin?
The answer is stories. We need to preserve and revive our stories first.
Stories for children and stories for adults…
Stories for life…
Stories through books and stories through cinema…