With all these world-class thinkers gracing the stage of the Walker Cinema, it was refreshing to conclude the day with some wisdom from children. John Davis, founder of the Kids Philosophy Slam, welcomed a handful of 8- to 14-year olds onstage for a philosophical round-robin on fear and hope. It was really wonderful, and not just in a Kids Say the Darndest Things way (although there was a bit of that).
The big question they were to address:
Which is more powerful, hope or fear?
The answers were funny and, well, philosophical, from one self-assured little guy (Daniel, who at 8 or 9, ad-libbed about the “inevitability” of fear) who touched on the interplay of hope and fear (“They’re a team… like the sun and the moon.”), while eight-year old Elsie poetically said, “ Hope is a gentle breeze, but fear is a whipping icy wind.” There were moments of deep emotion that I hesitate to mention for fear of exploiting a child’s very real grief. Morgan, who’s nine, read a statement about her brother Oliver, who died in a car accident just last year, but her words became muffled by tears, making palpable that hope and fear are more than abstract concepts. Another girl spoke of her mother’s cancer, another of war in Iraq, and another of the fear of showing your parents a bad report card (although that was seen as one of the positive effects of fear).
The questions Davis asked the kids are certainly worth pondering:
To what extent can we control the fear within ourselves?
Can hope have a negative influence on a person’s life?
Can fear ever be a motivating factor in a person’s life?
What is the value of hope when faced with all of the death and destruction in Iraq?
As they tackled these questions, I started to as well, and the original question–about whether hope or fear was more powerful–took on new meaning, transforming from the poetry of optimism to the pragmatic realization that we live in a world damaged by people overpowered by their own fear. I found myself wanting to side with hope (isn’t that the right answer?), but the reality these days seems to suggest the opposite.
Seeing these young people giving voice to such issues–and in so cogent and compelling a manner–was really amazing. Fourteen-year old Aaron seemed to grasp the nebulousness of hope and the viscerality of fear:
“Fear can make you do things you never would do… Fear is what drives men to war. Fear is everything. Hope is nothing. A thought, a chance… something you grab onto for inspiration…. Hope is a nonexistent glimmer in the dark. Fear is real. Very real.”
Embedded in all that is… hope: that hope is merely and promisingly a chance.