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Children With Power

I hold a lot of grudges. I don’t do it on purpose, in fact I wish I could forget them instead of harbouring the angst, but sadly I’m just a sponge for grievance. There’s one particular type of them that’s been on my mind all year. They’re the times when I was a child, being ordered to behave like an adult, by an adult who was behaving like a child.

I’ve thought about the ways it affected me; how it shaped who I am, and the significant power imbalance that makes it such a horrible thing to do to a kid. As a kid you look up to adults to learn how to be, and as an adult it is a huge responsibility to be mature and calm, patient but firm, and set a good example. It’s top of mind for me especially now that I’m a new parent.

And it feels timely to write about it today, when school children around the country are going on strike to stand up to a stubborn government, at best inactive but in reality wilfully destructive with regard to climate change. Those adults, belligerently acting like children, are the only ones with the power to do anything, and the children who are told to accept that the grown-ups know what they’re doing, are the ones brave enough to stand up to their authority and say “Actually I don’t think you do.”

It’s made me think of all the arguments I had with adults as a kid. All those battles that I fought, and lost, and spent years thinking I must be wrong. Only to grow up and become the adult myself and realise I didn’t lose because I was wrong; I lost because I had no power.

But there’s no satisfaction in being proven right when it’s too late to do anything about it. It’s a hollow validation to be able to say “I TOLD you the ship was sinking” moments before you and everybody else drowns.

In a year when I’ve been consumed by these long-held grudges with people who were older and wielded power over me, it’s the generations below me who have been my inspiration. Emma Gonzales and the other Parkland high school shooting survivors who have triggered a colossal anti-NRA movement in the USA; and Greta Thunberg, the fifteen year old Swedish girl who began the climate strike that has taken the rest of the world by storm.

They are constantly bombarded by their elders telling them they are too young, too naive, they don’t understand, they should do what the grown ups tell them. When all the while these grown-ups’ motives are transparent and malevolent; they profit from the things these kids are protesting. The former, the deaths of their peers, and the latter, the destruction of our planet. Children being ordered to behave like adults by adults behaving like children.

My grievances are more personal, and range from the petty to the traumatic, but it’s all the same sprawling ballpark. The high school teacher I clashed with because I didn’t like the way he taught. The primary school teacher whose class I took for my prac teaching, who became the reason I dropped out of my education degree altogether. The colleagues who bullied me constantly throughout my career, wielding my mistakes over my head while they went blameless for theirs. The father who kicked me out of home via a phone call. The half-sister who took my room and stole my toys to give to her kid, and lied to my face about it, only to admit it when they were destroyed and there was nothing I could do about it.

These are just highlights; the list goes on. But all share the same theme. All these fights that I had to back down from, or was punished for having, and forever scolding myself for being young and immature and not handling it like an adult. All these confrontations I walked away from feeling so bad about myself, having been told I was wrong, and out of line, and a bad person. Only to be the adult now, and realise they were never my betters, and worse still, to be appalled at the thought of behaving now like they did then, to someone younger who looks up to me. I was right at the time; those teachers were garbage. My colleagues were hypocrites and bullies. My dad was a prick, and my half-sister is proper white trash.

But it does me no good now. There’s no satisfaction in knowing you were on the right side of the fight when the fight’s over and you still lost.

As children we are all sold the lie of the capable adult. The grown-ups are the ones who know the right way to do things, and they’re in charge. One day you’ll grow up to be one of those adults.

Well, I’m grown up now, and I’m still surrounded by children. The world is not decent and operating smoothly; it is corrupt and broken. Hard work isn’t necessarily rewarded, but theft and deceit thrive. Nothing is fair, there is no meritocracy, and most people are terrible at everything. Our government is in chaos, and they’re the ones telling you not to strike because everything’s under control while they help Adani open a new coal mine. The naïve reassurance we tell ourselves, “Oh they wouldn’t let that happen if it was really dangerous”, well they do anyway because it benefits them and they don’t give a shit about your safety. Nothing works, criminals and bullies prosper and everything you were promised as a kid is a sham. And while I’m at it, Santa isn’t real and capitalism is a failure that’s the whole reason we’re in this mess.

I want to be the adult I was promised for my child. That doesn’t mean insisting I know better and demanding their respect, and scolding them for not doing things my way; it means proving it, and earning it, and applauding them for questioning me if I don’t.

So to any child who is second-guessing themselves, who is afraid of punishment because an adult is telling them they’re wrong to stand up for what they believe in: walk the fuck out of class and show the adults who really knows what they’re doing. Maybe there’s hope for us yet if you do.

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