In such times of bewildering, complicated world problems we tend to ignore the great wisdom of children. I’m not suggesting that we replace our politicians with six-year-olds, although there are times when they could certainly do as good a job and their personal expenses of soft drinks and sweets would come in at a much lower cost to the tax payer than champagne and fancy dinners!
The lovely thing about children is that generally they tend to keep it simple, something adults could learn from. Their view of the world can be very refreshing. Last October a group in the UK asked young people to think of one simple action they would ask a million people to do to change the world. The competition was called Small Actions; Big Change. The entries were so good that the best have been compiled into a book called ‘Teach Your Granny to Text’, the title taken from one of the suggestions. The book, which will be handed out to schools, contains thirty actions as well as stories, ideas for activities and recipes for making quick and easy food from scratch instead of grabbing a ready meal.
The competition was organised by the social change group, We Are What We Do.
The judges included celebrities like Ronnie Corbett and Dermot O’Leary who were charged with the task of whittling down over 1,500 entries to 30. The result is a charming book, aimed at 8 to 12-year-olds, full of pages that children can fill in and personalise. Each suggestion comes with an illustrated action and there are contributions from the bestselling children’s author, Anthony Horowitz. It is such a positive project to inculcate in children that we are what we do. The book’s producer, Nick Stanhope, says the aim is to equip children with the means to change the world with a simple set of actions. For adults, it provides an insight into how young people see the world and how they think it could be made better.
What a great idea and a simple one at that. Besides teaching technophobe grannies how to text it threw up some other little gems. For example, don’t charge your mobile phone overnight. One young person worked out that most modern phones take about two hours to fully charge and that by leaving them plugged in overnight we waste millions in electricity. I am guilty of this particular crime. Also when you think of the tangled mess of chargers for mobiles and ipods in the average household today, many of which are charged overnight, this small behavioural change certainly adds up. The greater crime of course is grabbing the phone in the morning on the way out the door, disconnecting it from the charger but leaving the plug in the socket! I’m ashamed of myself and will change.
I particularly liked another entry which simply and elegantly suggested that we smile more. If one million people committed to smile at every person they met in the course of a day, millions could be affected every twenty four hours. Whereas you may have to take some time to teach your granny to text, smiling at others is very easy and totally free. Another page in the book teaches basic sign language while a further action to change the world volunteered by a child speaks volumes in just a few words, “Don’t Start a War”. Four simple words that should make us all think. While the child was probably thinking about the world at large, even in our own little circles it would be a good motto to carry around. War doesn’t always have to involve armies as we have witnessed in Waterford with the recent ‘actions’ within certain communities.
This book was the result of collaboration between the We Are What We Do organisation and a government department, but WAWWD have their own website that has some great ideas for how we could all get involved in changing the world. At Wearewhatwedo.org there are 100 simple suggestions that are based on both social and environmental change. Taken from the website, here is a simple suggestion of reading a story with a child. “When kids ask you to read a story to them it’s because they know something you don’t. They know you’ll both feel richer for the experience (they know they’ll get an extra half hour before bed as well).
“Remember how much you enjoyed the experience as a kid – how your imagination was captivated. Well now it’s your turn to pass on that feeling and experience how rewarding storytelling really is. And not having kids is no excuse. Read to a nephew or niece, a godchild or friend’s child. Local schools and libraries are often crying out for people to read to pupils. Reading and listening to books actually rewires a child’s brain, speeds up their grasp of language, helps reduce stress and boosts self esteem. So how terrible that 60% of children go to bed without a story.”
If you don’t have any children yourself it almost makes you want to rush around to the neighbour’s and offer your services. It would be good, however, to at least have some kind of relationship with them. If it is just based on a friendly morning ‘hello’ in the driveway they may be suspicious if you insist on reading their precious child a bedtime story!
There are other suggestions such as planting a tree or having more meals together. Apparently researchers have found that children who have meals with their parents are much less likely to suffer from anxiety or stress disorders. I think it was George Bush Senior who once said that America needed more families like the Waltons and less like the Simpsons! Mind you I have certainly laughed out loud more times while watching the Simpsons than I ever did at the Waltons and to be fair, even in the Simpsons they tend to sit at a table and eat together.
It’s good to see that there are people out there who are trying to encourage us all to change. It would be very easy in this new ‘recession’ era to focus on ourselves and selfishly think ‘what about me’. Indeed there is a universal law that suggests the more we take our minds off ourselves and do something for others the lighter our own burdens become.
Don’t wait for some government body to start a project like Teach Your Granny To Text here. Instead if you do have the opportunity of being in a child’s company in the next few days ask them the question yourself: “So what would you ask one million people to do in order to change the world?”