I just watched the trailer for Terrence Malick's upcoming movie, "The Tree of Life," an intriguing drama that stars Brad Pitt and Sean Penn. As I followed the back story of its production, I came upon Malick's own words as to its meaning. It's about "the beauty and joy of all things and above all the family -- our first school -- the only place that most of us learn the truth about the world and ourselves, or discover life's single most important lesson, of unselfish love."
As the CEO of SOS Children's Villages - USA, I find the family as "our first school" an especially apt metaphor. There are as many different kinds of families as there are classrooms of life. Children raised in a close family see firsthand unselfish and unconditional love. They come to know the sweet certainty that their mother, father, or other family members will sacrifice much for them -- not out of obligation but out of the deepest affection.
Children who never see this love and sacrifice when they're young are likely to have learned very bad lessons: that you have little human value, that life is never fair, that attachment leads only to betrayal or disappointment, or that violence and retribution are the only ways to cope with an unjust world.
There are millions of children alive today who have studied in this very bleak classroom of life. They are the orphaned and abandoned children living in the streets, in institutions, or in servitude under the thumb of uncaring adults who have known very little joy or beauty themselves.
That's why the world needs NGOs like SOS Children's Villages and others that offer a warm, supportive surrogate family environment for those who have no biological family. Grown-ups and governments must provide that first classroom of life where every child can learn that he or she matters and that life is good. The lessons that come later are never as important as those that come first. Let's see how Malick makes this point once again through a great story and great actors.