The creative adult is the child who has survived.
Ursula K. LeGuin
There is an automaticity built into the way human beings act–especially around children. Within any culture, within any subset of a culture particularly within family units and social organizations within a culture, adults act out this automaticity toward children. For a quick check on what those things might have been when you were a child, ask yourself: what things were always required of me by the immediate adults in my world? These were requirements, rules, customs that everyone seemed to know (maybe except you). “Because I said so” often was the only reason the child who asked about them might have been given. If you were ever on the receiving end of “because I said so” then you were in contact with this automaticity.
When I was a child (of the 1960’s) in a community that was still living in the mindsets of the 1940’s and 1950’s, this automaticity was rooted in making sure that children became “good citizens” and “good Christians.” In particular, the things that everyone seemed to know about me were guided by “what boys do” as well as by “what boys don’t do.” Those fell under the subset of “what children do” and “what children don’t do.” This automaticity is one of the vehicles by which a culture delivers itself to and shapes the lives of the next generation. Because of the particular culture delivered to and shaping me, I learned how to cut the grass with a push mower early in life; how to fish and clean the fish I caught, how to play the three balls: football, basketball and baseball; that I was being sent to school to learn and not how to behave because I already knew how to behave. I didn’t learn how to play the piano (which I really wanted to do), and I never got to take art in school. I was deeply drawn to the architecture, ritual and practices of Catholicism, but “Catholics weren’t Christian” so they were taboo for a long time. Because I did survive my childhood, I would later explore Catholicism, take piano lessons, and begin painting–something I do to this day.
The automaticity that comes with culturally shaped adults is worth examining. It can be responsible for passing on valuable lessons gathered and sifted by previous generations, but it can also shape the creativity out of a soul. I feel like Unitarian Universalism knows this about human automaticity and rushes to value the creativity in every child. We have our own challenges: how to value the creativity in the child in such a way that it is not harmed, so that it survives AND to hand on to each child what is so valuable in this religious tradition of ours. After all, like people in most cultures and traditions, I want our young people with all their creativity to stay with us and become the next generation of Unitarian Universalists.