Discussion: Innocence and Knowledge

Unexpectedly, I am finding one of the hardest parts as a parent is to decide when should I tell the truth about the realities of the world.  I see the innocence and joy in life my son has, and it breaks my heart to tell him anything that speaks to the suffering that takes in this world.  There is a part of me that wants to preserve that innocence for as long as possible, and yet there is also part of me that wants to prepare him so he has the courage to face it.  I think overall I lean towards the former, because who am I to destroy such unadulterated joy in life?  Pain will find us all, and when it happens I’ll be there.  There is no rush.

But last night I started thinking, why can’t we all be more childlike and experience that joy?  What really causes us to “lose our innocence”.  I don’t think it’s death in of itself.  I don’t think sadness in of itself is what prevents us from experiencing a lot more bliss.

In trying to answer this question about loss of innocence, I started to think what a strange story the Garden of Eden is in Genesis.  The fact that eating from the tree of knowledge is what is referred to as the “fall of man”, the end of paradise (and innocence).  I don’t think knowledge as a whole is a problem.  For the most part knowledge makes me less fearful, less confused, and more likely to course correct in my life.  Life of course can’t be 100% bliss, but I imagined a world in which the only sadness we would experience would be when someone  we love died of natural causes, or natural disasters.  We might experience pain through breakups or moving away from home.  It is a dynamic world and there is an impermanence to all things.  I think such a world would be a more blissful experience, much more child-like.  What really causes us to lose our innocence is finding out the horrible things we do to each other.  That is a weight to bear that changes you forever; for which there is no going back.  If any biblical story in Genesis is going to represent the fall of man it should be when Cain kills his brother in anger (albeit anger due to God’s dissatisfaction with a vegan meal).  Anyway, I don’t really intend to get into a discussion about the Bible, only that as a parent the story struck as very odd even if I believed it was true.

For as long as I’ve been aware of the larger world that we live in, the only things that really break my spirit are is the harm that humans cause each other.  I’ve never sobbed and felt the world was a horrible place because someone died in a flood or of a heart attack.  I am curious as to what other people think about innocence and the loss thereof.  Could we be living in greater bliss than we are?  What does it mean to you “Loss of innocence”?  If you are a parent have you cried tears of happiness at the purity of your child’s joy, and have you also wept when you’ve watched them realized the horrors people commit against each other?  Any thoughts you might have on this topic are welcome.

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44 thoughts on “Discussion: Innocence and Knowledge

  1. Neuroscience changed my life and restored my faith in humanity. People do bad things but we now know why, for the most part.

    “Could we be living in greater bliss than we are?

    Yes, but sometimes our innate negativity bias can cause us to focus on the worst of human behavior.

    Liked by 6 people

    1. I am not sure Dhyan we’ll appreciate neuroscience at the age of 8. Although I hope to make sure he realizes its importance, and what we’ve learned from it. As I mentioned to Michael, I do think that we can learn and understand why, but I think it takes more comprehension than a child is capable of, and even now understanding why people do bad things to each other, it certainly has not caused any bliss to return. But maybe I’m completely wrong about why we “lose our innocence”…maybe it’s just as we grow our ability to forecast into the future increases, our ability to comprehend larger numbers increases, and maybe it’s just having to process all those possibilities increases our worries and fears. I don’t know.

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      1. …maybe it’s just as we grow our ability to forecast into the future increases, our ability to comprehend larger numbers increases, and maybe it’s just having to process all those possibilities increases our worries and fears.

        That’s a good point, considering our frontal lobes are underdeveloped in childhood. Yet, children can be unreasonably scared and have fears because they spend most of their time in a theta brainwave state (imagination) between the ages of 2 and 6. I was 5 when JFK was assassinated, and while I couldn’t fully grasp the magnitude, I was acutely aware that bad things happen. Every night my parents watched the news (kids present). During the Vietnam war, the death toll, as well as the number of wounded were reported daily.

        I lost my “innocence” well before age 8. However, I remember pretending innocence to my parents because I became aware that they needed me to hold on to the “magic” as though they were living through me and my siblings. An example would be Santa Claus.

        Still, I was able to escape the reality of reality through fantasy and imagination, as most children do and have always done. I tend to think that the loss of “innocence” is harder on the parents than it is on the children.

        Liked by 3 people

        1. I just chose 8 somewhat randomly…I am sure it’s different for different children. I also think a lot of kids do, as you did, sort of hide from their parents what they really believe about the world because they are equally afraid of hurting their feelings. In a way that’s kind of sweet how that works, in other ways it might be better to feel free to be more honest. It’s a big part of the reason why I don’t push Santa Claus, because why get into an imaginary world where both people have to pretend it’s real at some point? lol One can pretend and know they are pretending and it can still be fun.

          I tend to think that the loss of “innocence” is harder on the parents than it is on the children.

          I think you are probably right about that.

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          1. Swarn, you post has given me a lot of fuel for thought — and has taken me back to my childhood as well as my daughter’s childhood. In fact, I was reminded of a post I published back in 2013. Here’s an excerpt:

            “We were riding through downtown when my daughter, who was a wee one at the time, noticed a homeless person. She intuitively knew he was unhappy and hungry. She turned to me, her big blue eyes tearing up, and said “Momma, can we buy him something to eat?” I get teary-eyed just thinking about that poignant moment.

            I drove to a restaurant and ordered a hearty meal and a large iced tea to go. We retraced our tracks in hopes of finding the man. But it was to no avail. I think this was the first time my daughter became acutely aware that there was suffering in the world.”

            ————————————–

            Kristin was around 5 or 6 at the time. I do remember feeing a bit of heartache because of her newfound awareness, and yet, I was so proud of her. I found this article yesterday and thought it was interesting. I don’t know what the ages of her children were/are so that should be taken into account, I think.

            http://www.takepart.com/article/2015/05/12/expose-kids-to-world-problems/

            Liked by 2 people

            1. Great story Victoria and great article. I certainly am not a proponent of sheltering children from the pain of the world. The world certainly isn’t made better by being ignorant of its ills. My cousin does that to her children. Won’t let them see the slums in India (she lives in India) because she thinks that it’s not good for them to see that. To me that’s a very selfish and snobbish attitude. She was born into money so perhaps that’s the reason.

              But I think with the homeless person the hard part to take is not that you see suffering and want to do something about it, it’s when you learn that society at large could do something about the problem but largely doesn’t. I mean when was the last time you saw a politician run on a platform of helping homeless people? I mean perhaps it does happen at the level of mayor or state governments, but the political conversation wrapped up in issues that get people riled up and homelessness doesn’t seem to fit the bill in that way. Even though it should.

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  2. My wife and I had this conversation last night. Our youngest is seven now and she is so happy all the time. I don’t want to wreck it. Do we raise her in western deception of sexuality and the rigors of the world, or subtly prepare her for what is coming? We lean in the middle of this and are trying to get her to think for herself, to think things through, and coach her to be wise but happy. She has an incredibly trusting nature, more so than any child I’ve known. She is a total people person and it scares me that some nut could sway her hard one way or the other. Age appropriate answers and being careful not to have her learn certain things from her friends, but not isolating her either is a good balance. Great communication is key. She tells us everything. She is so boy crazy it’s scary, and makes friends too easily. She tells us all her feelings without fear if judgement, and I think that will go along way to growing up with balance.

    Liked by 4 people

    1. My daughter was the same way, Jim. Very trusting and a people person. Looking back, I was very trusting which is why I ended up being bamboozled. It’s kind of a paradox though, as trusting others is a good thing, but I think it depends on the kind of culture you’re raised in.

      For example, some of the happiest countries in the world have one thing in common — trusting others. https://www.readersdigest.ca/travel/world/happiness-worlds-happiest-countries-have-in-common/

      “She tells us all her feelings without fear of judgment, and I think that will go along way to growing up with balance.”

      I couldn’t agree more. My daughter could and still can talk to me about anything without fear of judgment. I wasn’t raised that way, so I had an awareness of how disadvantageous that style of parenting was (to be seen but not heard).

      I think it’s important to not choreograph our family environment in hopes of protecting our children from reality.

      Liked by 4 people

      1. You always have great links. I am quite trusting too and my life is an open book, even to most strangers I meet. My wife is suspicious of everyone, and is always on guard. I guess we cancel each other out. She grew up in Panama City Panama so I get her skepticism. Just because someone is nice may be a reason NOT to trust them. Like in churches today with the scandals—It’s always the nice ones. Thanks Victoria for a little extra, and Swarn for hosting this difficult topic.

        Liked by 3 people

          1. I never have many reservations about just laying it out there. I’d actually like to see more of that in everybody—Especially when I was a churchy. So much hiding who they were I literally never got to know anybody in 50’years. And it causes a sense of doom and loneliness when you feel like you’re the only one with struggles. Atheists seem much more open to the foibles and the ironies of their life.

            Liked by 3 people

            1. I’ve been accused before of having no inner sanctum. I can easily get into a deep conversation even with a random stranger at a bar. As much as I like to travel, I’ve always been much more of an explorer of humanity. Both of other people and myself. And you don’t get to explore if you keep things hidden. It’s amazing how open and honest people become when you are that way too.

              Liked by 2 people

    2. Thank you Jim for this comment. Not having daughters I completely forgot the extra weight there is in dealing with a daughter who you are going to have to prepare for the realities of what men might do to her. I think it’s far easier (although no less important) to explain to a boy why he shouldn’t rape someone, but I think it’s harder to have to sit down and explain to a young girl that she might be a victim of a horrifying and traumatic crime.

      I am glad she tells you everything and you certainly seem like the type of dad that can listen with the kind of patience a kid needs. I hope that continues into her teenage years as well, where I think kids get more worried about how their parents will react.

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  3. I think some of what I would say in response here, Swarn, would potentially be misconstrued, but there are a few ideas I’d offer for consideration. Well, before that, yes, I 100% think we could be living in greater bliss.

    One way to think of the loss of innocence is to think of it as the realization that we’re not sure there’s enough for everyone. The issue of how we treat one another is part of this in the sense that our innocence is lost when we learn there might not be enough safety in this world. We discover we are vulnerable. I don’t know if you would be inclined to agree with me or not, but the sensation that there might not be enough, of whatever it is–kind people, good jobs, understanding drivers on the roads, affordable housing, food, shelter, respect, security, friendship, opportunity, intimacy, etc.–is (I think) a reasonably big part of why people treat each other as they do, and why world systems perpetuate many of the difficulties that we have. My view is that this sort of perceived insecurity is symptomatic of the real issue, which is the notion that we are separate from one another–separate from other humans, separate from the world and the environment, and separate from Life itself.

    I don’t think the Biblical story of Adam and Eve, and “the Fall” has to deal with knowledge as you are inclined to think of it–e.g. as the comprehension of facts about the natural world–but is really about the obtainment of a false sort of knowledge, which is knowledge of the egoic self. It is the shift in awareness from the childlike at-onement with all that exists, and a lack of the need to be concerned with there being enough, to a focus on an individualized, vulnerable existence through a vehicle with constant needs. In most spiritual traditions worldwide that I am aware of, the key to ending suffering is the withdrawal of investment in a conceptual self, and a return to unity. The conceptual, or egoic self, is the “knowledge” gained in the Biblical story that led to difficulty, and from there the fight between Cain and Abel is in a sense the natural response to this new perception. It is the depiction of one human wrestling with another for limited resources. It is what comes of “falling” into a zero sum game.

    And lastly, I would simply say that people who act out scenes of horror are basically acting out of ignorance. You could even call it an illness in certain cases. It’s a reaction to the type of knowledge that was taken to be true at the time of “the Fall” and from which we’ve not recovered as of yet. The point is that this takes evil out of the equation, and the need to be afraid, and replaces it with the possibility of compassion and understanding. Those who seek power over others do so from the experience of being powerless.

    Michael

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    1. Thanks Michael for your response. I am well aware of why people act out against each other as they do, and I don’t see people as inherently evil, or really evil at all…I only point out that it’s that reality we must face which I think is what saps away the “innocence” much more easily. I agree completely with your reasons for why people do what they do to each other, but I don’t think that can be easily comprehended by a child on their own, and although I’ll try to explain motivations and intent, I think coming to grips with why people do cruel things to each other is something that takes study and understanding to a certain degree.

      While I like your interpretation of the story in Genesis, I am not sure that is the common interpretation, but certainly taken entirely metaphorically we can fit in all sorts of lessons in there. Overall I like the relationship there to the “self” which I assume you mean in the buddhist conception of self. I do think there is something to what your positing there, because I do think “self” is something that develops in us as we grow, but I would say it’s there a lot sooner than the typical age where I think most kids really become aware of the larger world and the realities of it. My son can be selfish, and angry, and easily feel shame, or be angry at himself…but maybe it’s these emotions that eventually are projected out into the world when we look at it with young eyes and this colors our ability to see what’s really going on (that ego dominates over unity). It’s interesting stuff.

      I guess all I was trying to say with this post is that it seems of all the things that break us down in this world it’s the cruelty of human vs human which weigh us down the most. I can perfectly understand from an intellectual point of view why a person might brutally murder someone given certain genetic and environmental conditions, but it doesn’t make knowledge of the crime any less horrifying to hear about. As Jim points out in talks he will have to have with his daughter when it comes to protecting herself against rape, I think that these are simply hard things to explain to a child and will have a large impact in how they conceptualize the world at that age.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Ive been a dad for about as long as I can remember now. Been through two marriages and kids with both. I think what you ask, about sheltering innocence, requires a complex answer, probably beyond my capabilities, but I’ll try anyway.

    The younger the child, hold on to that innocence as long as possible says I. That part of youth that finds things simply magical should be enjoyed by all. Then comes the questions. Answer the questions, and there will be many. Interact with them, show them everything, inspire them to be inquisitive. Teach them how to use their desire to ask questions, to answer their own. Make them think.

    As they age though, say beyond 6 or 8 depending on the child, somewhere through here I believe it is important for them to understand at least what is going on with family matters (to a point,) they should be in the loop on daily coming and goings, and the goings on associated with a family life. Let them be informed and let them learn to make informed decisions. Finally as they become a little older, pre teens to young teens, it is probably time to start having those talks none of us really want to have. Understand this though, if you have not done your best at this point to instill within them the basic expectations of a young human being by this time, it is probably too late. From this point on you are merely a rudder that might brave the currents enough, to help steer them in the right directions, as life throws its challenges in front of us.

    How to explain what happened to the guppy, or the dog, or great grandma, is up to you I think. But knowing what I know about you, you wont do a bad job there. Honesty, understanding, empathy, and sympathy, will choose your words.

    If you can get this far, and you will, know that good or bad, and there are many pitfalls to ensnare the unwary/uninformed, however they turn out, know that you did what you could. It is up to them now…

    Liked by 6 people

    1. Sorry for the delayed response SD. I read your comment when you posted it and I have to admit that I fell in love with you a little. I don’t know how much more plainly to say it, “but that’s some good shit right there”. Thank you for this amazing comment, this is a great guide to parenting. You can be my dad anytime. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Ha! Hey Swarn, I love you too man 🙂

        Now, go to your room 😉

        Seriously, I only speak from many years of experience, far from a perfect dad, that is impossible, but I grew up through some tough childhood experiences, and always remembered how not to be when I grew up. I took that to heart and winged it from there.

        I will brag a bit, my kids/stepkids have always been honor roll, or darn close to it students, smart kids. But adulthood brings many new challenges, and some are transitioning better than others. Which is why I threw in that last part, know you have done what you could. No matter how good or bad a job one has done with parenting, it is a roll of the dice on how they actually turn out. They will be who they are, whoever that is. Again, speaking from experience…

        Granted, the ones I am referring too had some mental challenges. One stepson is heavily ADHD, and a step daughter who wound up inheriting the same mental issues of her mother (depression/bi-polar). It is tough man, when the cards are already stacked against you. An uphill battle as a parent. Thank goodness those two were separated by different marriages, or I’d have lost my mind by now.

        But no matter, I know I gave them the tools, I did what I could, and what ever is to be, will be.

        Liked by 2 people

        1. I was just talking with Victoria about how unfathomable it is that there are people out there who think that everybody has equal ability to pull themselves up by their bootstraps. The challenges that people with mental illness face are especially difficult, both in impact their ability to just move through daily life in the same way we all do, but also in the patience, understanding, and judgment they get from others in society. What’s clear is that despite the challenges of your step-children they are coping far better because of you than if they had a much worse father. I see it all the time in my volunteer work. A kid with some mental illness, learning disability, etc will end up being so much further behind developmentally because their parents are just absent drug addicts…and things will be far worse for them if they are beaten, sexually abused etc. These are of course the extremes, but I think there are also parents who certainly aren’t guilty of abuse and neglect, but still don’t offer the love, support, and acceptance that such children need. None of us are of course perfect, but there are certainly parents who just up the odds for their children, and it is clear you are that kind of dad. 🙂

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          1. Absent drug addicts, verbal, physical, sexual abuse, asshole drunkards who beat the wives and children, welcome to the South. I know this kind of thing knows no county or state boundaries, it is rampant in our society, and it is a damn shame too. I applaud you for your volunteer work.

            Yes, I know deep down in my metaphorical soul, that I have given them a better opportunity than many will have. Some may realize that when they manage to acquire some wisdom, some may not. I have no trouble sleeping at night, of that I can assure you 🙂

            Liked by 1 person

  5. A wonderful provacative post Swarn! I appreciate your openness about this subject. It never hurts to ask. 😉

    Personally, I think perception and our attitude toward life and its impact/influence upon us has MUCH to do with how we thrive in healthy ways. Naturally, this is first shaped by our parents and family, then our immediate community/culture in adolescence. And if we are curious or bold enough, the rest of the world we choose to experience. But to some greater or lesser degree that is shaped too by where we are in this world at what time.

    To your final questions, as a parent myself — granted in a less-than part-time capacity for me due to the individual state rights of easy divorces today — I think it is fine and good for a caring, responsible parent to arrange some sort of age-appropriate development/teaching of the “world’s realities,” the birds-n-bees, and the struggle and discernment to remember to keep aspects of that child-like passion, curiosity, and LOVE of this endlessly diverse world and inhabitants! But to some degree THEY have to learn it all on their own, with their successes and failures. With the latter, I like to emphasize that failures are opportunities. Just “learn to fail better” each time. That’s life, that’s the best teacher in life — learning to refine each time your problem-resolution skills while sucking the marrow out of life!

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    1. Thanks Professor. I agree with you that one has to eventually explain these things. It’s just sort of heartbreaking when you see their face when it suddenly strikes that people die, or that someone would do something violent to someone else. Again, it may simply be from the parent’s perspective, but it feels as though there will simply be a little less joy because of that knowledge. I guess maybe the reality is, is that life isn’t all about joy. I know this and I’m okay with that…but man it sure feels good to see that happiness in a child. As Victoria points out the loss of innocence is probably harder on the parent than on the child.

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  6. As soon as I could read, I read everything I could get my hands on – this included newspapers. Needless to say I’ve ended up locking myself away, sheltered from the outside world. That’s not necessarily good or bad, but it’s certainly different from the lives most people lead.

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    1. Personally I think it’s good that you are locked away from the outside world. You’d be too much. 🙂

      But your attitude might be rarer, but it’s also hard to say how many people there might be just like you, since they are also locked away from the outside world. Makes them difficult to count. lol

      Liked by 2 people

  7. Love this contemplative piece. And good questions. As I am naturally curious and filled with wonder at the natural world, I am, perhaps, a ‘child at heart.’ As to loss of innocence, I never had innocence to begin with. Now I see my dubious beginnings as a gift, for I was able to get up to speed with the grit of the world fairly quickly. In that capacity, I was well able to help others for many years.

    Did/do I wish to reclaim some sort of ‘childhood?’ That means I would be living in fantasy or in a past of my own making (the same thing, really), and I just don’t go there. What I did miss in all those years of service was the ability to indulge my creative side more. Which is what I have had the grace to do, lo these past dozen years.

    When my kids were young and living in the Maine woods, I did not ask questions about when and how to induct them into The World. They, too were naturally curious, and when they had questions I could answer, I did so. But they often sought their own answers. Reading, going outside, experimenting. They had safety and complete freedom in 65 wooded acres on a pristine lake. Their local school was one of the state’s best, even though public. This was in the early 80’s, and heaven knows things have changed radically since that time. Yet they retain a love of nature, even though the stressors of making a living and the impossible task of paying back grad school loans is, I can see, grinding them down.

    Which leads me to saying from where I sit at 65 years of age, that I think that’s what life in the world does to one. It grinds. Sometimes more slowly, sometimes more rapidly. It grinds one down until one becomes vulnerable enough to allow important questions to emerge. This is necessarily different for everyone. But ultimately the questions might be the same; why do we live and die, why are people cruel to one another, why do we destroy what we love, right down to essentials like clean air and water? Why, why, why. No clear answers to many of these ponderings, but the pondering itself, at its most hopeful, can lead to a collective shifting of global consciousness.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Thank you for this equally thoughtful response Bela. You have a lot of good stuff here. I think when we ask questions, when we are curious, sometimes the answers aren’t ones we want. They can make us sad, they can lead to even more questions. But I think even unpleasant answers are better than no answer. That’s just the way it goes. I think a lot of my view here is just based on my own perceptions and how I feel when I see some sadness when he comes to realize something about the world. For him it might not be as troubling. At least for now. He might cry because we ran out of his favorite ice cream…these are things that don’t make us cry. Perhaps having him cry over the same things I do isn’t any better or worse. For him, no ice cream causes as much real sadness, as it does for me when I hear about a school shooting. Maybe it’s better that he have those things to cry about because then he might be motivated to do something about it in some way. Making sure there is enough ice cream is not a problem that really needs to be worked on in the grand scheme of things. 🙂

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  8. Hi Swarn
    Incredible piece!! From a completely different perspective, I was never allowed a moments innocence from inception and made a conscious decision to not have children due to the torrid childhood.
    You asked a pivotal question: “Could we be living in greater bliss than we are? ” YES! if all beings on this planet “cared, had empathy for the earth, animal life and human life and were intellectually conscious!”
    Unfortunately, as I look around and dare not peek back into my life, there are few and far between of the above answer to a YES!
    We may wish and think we choose the right people to be in our close circles, or the correct position in life, there are no guarantees of empathy, kindness and care, or even at the minimal “caring for the very planet we all must be excellent stewards of in order to sustain our very lives!” That is proof in itself.
    For those individuals who do care, this attribute will cover a wide span in life. We allow people to be close and share with loving kindness, we will let the car stuck in traffic into line where every car is at a stand still, and smile and say thank you more than we complain to the cashiers, waiter/waitress &c….
    And the children some might bear, will question these very thoughts you have when loving all children, caring about other life and lives, all this will be the norm. We would not feel a need to pose such questions, rather our hearts will be inline with our intellect as a norm throughout man?kind.
    Thank you Swarn!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you MicheleElys for your great comment. I do hope that the world gets better in the way you indicate because that would be my vision as well. In the end I think all we can do is to be the change we want to see in the world and hope that it spread like a virus (the good kind of virus). 🙂

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    2. Hi Swarn,

      As to your beginning question about your son’s innocence and when do we tell children. When they encounter off behavior, that is the perfect time to show them one behavior and examine choices and other behavior which has the ability to engage both mind and heart to see there are many options as we move along with some growing degree of intelligence mixed with caring and kindness.
      Many children are naturally kind and will defend animals from bullies, no matter the parenting. I was one of these little girls, standing boldly in front of several little boys bullying a cat or vulnerable person. The fact was and still remains, I’m not very big, but have such a determination that it scars people and they think I am crazy. This also works with gang members.
      Then there is the other side when we are grown, called Violence Interrupters. It started in Scotland and spread to Chicago, there is a documentary done on this issue, as treating violence as a “mental health” issue more than violent. Which it is in more ways than others have thought.
      People need homes, secure place to live, food on the table 3 times daily and snacks. School supplies, FREE EDUCATION AND MEDICAL, assurances that someone has their back and not some factious passive aggressive god…………….That last statement might stir a few, but think about it first!
      Kindness and most of all caring WORKS, for humanity. This is where Humanity begins to grow.
      Cheers MicheleElys

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  9. Being told the truth can be difficult to deal with. This is why I insist my kids break things to me gently – especially if it concerns Liverpool and any loss they may incur.
    So far so good!

    When my children informed me there was no Santa Claus I sulked for a week.
    They always know more than you think they do.

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