What are you going to be when you grow up? How many kids have been asked that question by their parents, grandparents, relatives, family friends? My wife, Mariellen, and I asked our kids that when they were small. At least Mariellen did. She spent a lot more time with them when they were young than I did and she had the opportunity to converse with them. I was mostly out “earning a living” in those years and had little chance to learn about them. I heard about their hopes, dreams and fears second hand.
So, I heard from Mariellen about their answers to the “what are you going to be” question. I learned from those answers a bit about the unique qualities our two boys possessed. Neither of them had the usual cowboy, policeman, fireman sort of ambition. Joe, the older of our two boys, decided that what he wanted to be was rich. His logic was that if he were rich there would be nothing to stop him from being anything else he wanted to be. Chris, the younger, had an even better idea. He decided that it was best to be God. That way he wouldn’t have to depend on anything as uncertain as money to plan his life.
But why do we ask such a question of our children? Why do we ask them what they want to be? We may get some amusing answers from them and we may consider it a first step in starting them thinking about planning their lives, but are those the real reasons we ask that question? Isn’t what we’re really doing beginning a process of programming them into fitting into society—into occupying some acceptable niche where they can be safe and secure, where they can gain the approval of the rest of us, where they can be “happy?” But why do they have to work toward being something in order to be successful? Aren’t they already something? Isn’t that something a basis for happiness?
Each child—each person—is a unique individual. Each possesses distinctive talents and abilities that are exactly what are needed to live a full and happy life and through which each can provide the maximum benefit to society. None of them has to become anything other than what he or she already is. Each is already everything that he or she has to be. It is our responsibility to see that each of them has the opportunity to develop so that the fullness of that being can be expressed.
To ask our children, “What do you want to be?” is erroneous. Rather, we should ask them: “What gift have you brought us? What do you bring to us to satisfy a need, the nature of which we, perhaps, are not yet even aware?” When we can seriously ask those questions of our children and just as seriously listen to their answers, then we will be a civilization truly worthy of the name.