In the Shadows of the Sacred: Indecent Exposure for Our Children

09/23/2011 08:27 am ET | Updated Nov 23, 2011

As we approach the Jewish High Holy Days of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, the anticipation builds in the psyches of most Jews for a time of reflection, judgment and repentance. Yes, some sermons may focus on the current travails of Israel and Palestine, but for the most part the focus will be on making personal amends and hoping to be written into the Book of Life for another year.

Interestingly, although most prayers are said directly to God, when a person sins against another, he or she has to ask forgiveness and make amends person to person, not person to God. And so it is that we might as a whole borrow from the traditions of this holiday to reflect on our individual and collective robbery of our children's future. By future I refer to their reason for hope in a sustainable physical climate along with economic viability and reason to expect a "homeland" (i.e. habitat or planet) in which they can thrive and co-exist fruitfully.

Jane Goodall is the remarkable friend and student of chimpanzees and the social activist who personifies real love of the physical and human environment as well as a dedication to children and their sacred (yes, so she feels) right to hope. In the new biographical documentary, "Jane's Journey," she states that our planet is something we borrow from our children. However, to my view, it is something we have just about stolen from them. We have stolen resources, and we have deprived them of hope.

I agree with Goodall that to rob children of hope in the future is criminal, as I wonder if it reflects a deep-seated resentment of those who will take away our illusions of long lasting grandeur. Children interrupt our notion that everything has to be lived for the present and accumulated for now, for us.

Even before the most recent economic crisis, we have allowed our children to see the devastation of our earth, of our country, of our Native Americans, of our poor people and of our sick people. They have seen not only the injustices of wars not voted on, but of lies told egregiously by top leaders. They now hear on a daily basis the predictions of how they will perhaps not be able to afford a college education and of their future looking in so many ways dreary.

And just the other day, in a therapy session with a 15-year-old girl and her mother, the girl said she didn't want to be posed the lightest of job concerns by her mother because "all this economic talk is depressing me." We discussed the overall mood in America, where the divide between the haves and have-nots matches the divide of those who want to give services to the older, poorer and sicker among us and those who think that being rich should protect people against responsibility for sharing of resources.

Psychologically speaking, the shadow implies the territory where we hide the emotions that disturb us or are in conflict with our conscious value systems or self-image. So too the Christian Right may include people who embrace the teachings of Jesus but hide perhaps from themselves his actually having embraced giving to the poor. In any case the shadow refers also to the way we see our children, the gaps between our perception of our attitudes and the actual attitudes themselves.

I have held for a long time that envy is an inevitable aspect of parenting since as parents we age and decay in terms of our bodies and growth potential while our children flourish, thrive and are at the height of their physical and sexual potential. In owning up to our envy, as in owning up to our thoughts and feelings in states of mindfulness, the brutal aspects of conflicting emotions can either pass through or be integrated into a larger segment within that includes love and caring.

I'm suggesting that while we want to limit our children's access to pornography and violence in the content of films and the Internet, we are presently subjecting them to indecent exposure in terms of horrific images not only in fantasy but as in dooming them to vicious cycles of poorer and poorer quality of life. We are subjecting them to viciousness, not only in terms of economic predictions, but in terms of our incapacity or unwillingness to model for them how we might be or become capable of resolving conflicts, of using the information and motivation we can muster. No, instead we defy information in favor of our belief systems, as we defy joining together in favor of choosing the winner in the next election. After that election we can again defy cooperation, leaving our children no legacy of learning from adults. Instead, we will continue to preach to them about cooperating and sharing, and we may well continue giving them time outs for not doing so.

If we approach these or any other holidays that memorialize or urge reflection by rote food preparation and worship procedures, we will either choose to not participate at all or go through the motions without adding meaning and life for our present and future.

Many want to make sure they get their name on the lists of God as to who shall live in the next year, and many others will ask fellow Jews for a summary forgiveness without even knowing if any offense has been committed, hardly leaving time for the answer as to whether this is the case.

I may feel apart from organized religion much of the time, but there are myths and meanings still pertinent for us; the stuff that can stop us in our tracks if we let it in. Our children are watching us fight and watching us use spite and lack of compassion. We are their teachers, predicting economic downfalls and inspiring not hope and courage but defeat and depression. This is worthy of reflection, to my mind, and of getting to know our present motives and working on change.

This is not the hope and change used, sadly, in what has proven to be political rhetoric. Rather, it is something we have to mean, to build, to practice. Otherwise, there is no love for the children we claim to hold sacred, and if that should be the case, then we are in need of very serious and pervasive therapy.

As it is, our atonement may need to go deeper than ever before.