Talking to children about interbeing this Christmas…and beyond

/ December 12, 2017

It’s Christmas time, the weather is cold and there has even been some snow! Christmas is a time to give gifts and to have fun, but in all the excitement it is also important for our children to have moments of peaceful reflection, and to consider others who may be less fortunate.

This year I have really enjoyed having a go at the  Daily Kindness Calendar, and many thanks go to Jess and Emily for the Brighton Voices In Exile kindness calendar here at school. Thanks also to the ‘reindeers’ at the beginning of the month! Some were extremely speedy and overtook a ‘Santa’ who was sorely in need of a few more mince pies (see above).

In my puja last week, I began to talk about ‘Interbeing’ (as it is called in the Plum Village tradition). I referred to a flower, and what ‘non-flower’ elements contributed to the flower. Interbeing is a way of expressing one of Buddhism’s core teachings, that on interconnectedness; how none of us fully independent, and that independence is in itself an oxymoron.

When I am thinking about children becoming independent learners, I reflect that it is a very delicate balance. What we are trying to do is to enable them to achieve their potential and learn in a matrix of interconnectedness – their parents, teachers, peers, other adults and the environment. Each child is like a beautiful flower. And so this is how we can talk to children, as beautiful flowers that we are coaxing to stand up tall, on their own, yes, but as a beautiful flower in a field of other beautiful flowers and other beautiful plants, growing tall from good soil and nourished by the rain and sun.

With that in mind, I have been reflecting on what ‘vulnerability’ is about, what exacerbates it and how we can help. To continue the metaphor, I have been reflecting on the elements that hinder the healthy growth of a beautiful flower. In the part of my job which is about safeguarding children, (ensuring that they are safe and thriving at school), recently I have been hearing a lot about vulnerability within the wider context of schools in Brighton and Hove.

Children may feel vulnerable for a plethora of reasons; they may have some kind of additional difficulty in terms of learning or ability or they just may be ‘different’ in some way – ethnicity, gender expression, sexuality, etc. This may make them feel that they stand out, that there aren’t enough companions or ‘people like them’ and so they are vulnerable to feeling isolated or lonely. And isn’t the flip side of Christmas a pinch point for those of us that may be lonely in all the festivities?

In talking to our children and being with them, we want to build a sense of inclusion, and rightness in the glorious diversity of our community and our world, especially, in this context, other children. They may want to ask questions that could be considered rude or not ‘pc’. We strive to create an environment where these questions are welcome and so we are able to steer them through to understanding people that are different from them in a spirit of openness. An example may be a child who does not eat all day during Ramadan. I want our school to be an environment in which it is absolutely fine to ask about this; curiosity about others different from oneself is natural and invariably comes from a place of innocence. If a child feels that there are no-go areas in terms of questions they have about life they might just take those questions elsewhere and censor themselves for fear of causing offence.

In a more existential context, we are all fragile and vulnerable and, especially at this time, it is wise and right to remember this in our interactions with people.

With heartfelt wishes for a merry Christmas and a happy New Year to all in our community.

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