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KidSpirit – Youth Model the Spirit of Pluralism

By Elizabeth Dabney Hochman


This reflection on change came to KidSpirit from Gracie Griffin, a seventh grader in Maine. It is an example of the remarkable submissions KidSpirit receives, prior to editing. It will go through several drafts with the youth Editorial Board before being published as a feature in KidSpirit's issue on the theme of Time.

This reflection on change came to KidSpirit from Gracie Griffin, a seventh grader in Maine. It is an example of the remarkable submissions KidSpirit receives, prior to editing. It will go through several drafts with the youth Editorial Board before being published as a feature in KidSpirit's issue on the theme of Time.

Something Inside

How does a person know when something inside of them is changing?
Things do change. Storms transfer into sun, snow melts into spring. Maybe a new talent or hobby is rising out of the abyss that is the human brain. Have you ever shaken a dust filled rug or piece of cloth? The dust whirls in the sunlight, dancing around. How can something so dirty seem so graceful in that moment? That’s what I picture change as, floating out of the darkness into the light.
Can a person sense when that small speck of change is slowly floating out of the darkness? Or does it come a sudden zap of shock like the moment of a surprise party where everyone yells that word that changes everything. Surprise! Your whole life, strings of surprise parties, waiting for the right moment to happen. Just waiting for you to open the door on them.
Maybe it’s different for everyone. Some people have that sixth sense of knowing when change is around the corner. Others stumble blindly into it, like the moment when you’re going through a pitch black tunnel, when one turn careens you into the light. Others still can see slightly, but it’s blurred like a gossamer curtain is drawn across their eyes. Maybe, just maybe, it is different for every moment, every change. How will we find the answer? What philosophical journey must we take on to solve this great mystery?
We speak of philosophers, people who search for the answers to mysteries. They travel through oceans and forests, fast for days, wait for signs from above.
Perhaps we are mistaken. Maybe they don’t know. A person who isn’t famous, who isn’t enormously rich, maybe who to us isn’t important. Maybe they carry answers to our questions. A teacher, a student, a postal worker, a chef, an artist, a writer, a person like you. Look at what we do in these minds of ours. We talk and we think, we question, we wonder, we imagine, we create. We change. But even though change is inevitable, it doesn’t mean you can’t be who you are. Don’t hide behind false faces and false emotions.
Change happens. We all know it does. We can’t stop it. Instead of seeing this as a problem, embrace it. Carl Gustav Jung, a Swiss psychiatrist, once said, “Only that which changes remains true.” Saying that, be true to yourself, even when you do change. Be you in the biggest sense you can. Do what you want to do. Say what you want to say. Feel anything that you need to feel. Don’t let anyone keep you from embracing your inner self. How does a person know when something inside of them is changing? Hard to tell, but I can tell you one thing. It brings up some really good questions.
- Gracie Griffin

Take a moment to look back on your youth. Do you remember being 12 or 14? That awkward age on the cusp of adulthood, when you were neither a child nor yet an adult, but alternately identifying with both? Imagine your deepest held values and beliefs at that age; your fledgling sense of self and vulnerability. Did you have opportunities to share what mattered to you? To listen to voices different from your own and marvel at their unique worth and beauty? Flash forward a few years to your late teens and early twenties. How do you recall that sense of self now? Stronger? More settled? Perhaps a bit less open-minded than before?

We know that traits we develop as children become the basis of the adults we will become. If a child develops empathy, for example, early in life, we know they are more likely to be empathic later on. Conversely, what happens with negative traits? What about intolerance or its cousins, aggression and fear?

As supporters of interfaith work, we know that building greater understanding and dialogue among diverse groups is a crucial aspect in creating a more peaceful world. We know listening to each other and educating ourselves about our neighbors is central in our interdependent world. Although there are myriad ways for adults to enhance their inner development and pluralistic understanding, there are surprisingly few outlets for youth to develop these same skills, and fewer options still for young teens. How can we hope for a world with greater compassion and understanding without nurturing these qualities in youth?

The KidSpirit all-youth Editorial Board puts the publication together.

The KidSpirit all-youth Editorial Board puts the publication together.

KidSpirit, an organization I founded in 2007, is an online magazine and social networking community that empowers youth from all backgrounds and traditions to tackle life’s big questions in a spirit of openness. The magazine is a nonprofit, ad-free quarterly, written and edited by youth. It embodies a vibrant dialogue between an all-youth Editorial Board based in New York, and kids ages 11-16 around the world who send us their poetry, original essays and artwork for our quarterly themes. All youth, regardless of background or location can participate fully in this forum free.

Our complimentary group-guides for teachers and mentors working with youth augment any curricula from religious education to creative writing and are available for download.

A New Kind Of Publication

My hope in founding KidSpirit was to create a non-commercial platform for youth to share their beliefs, values and creativity and to support their development into becoming world citizens with strong inner grounding. Over the last five years, KidSpirit’s issues have had themes ranging from conflict-resolution and peacemakers and mourning rituals around the world, to moments of transcendence, analysis of materialism in culture and reflections on creativity and meaning. You can see an archive of all of our issues online by clicking here. Our young contributors span many parts of the world and they shine as brilliant examples of the honesty, joy and poignant questioning that so often characterizes the shift from childhood to adulthood.

Our all-youth Editorial Board has read essays, poetry, journalistic articles and reviewed original artwork from kids from India and Great Britain to Ukraine and the United States, all based on open exchange on probing topics they choose. The cultural and religious dialogue has taken our editors and readers in unexpected directions that would have been almost unthinkable a generation ago.

The editors range from teenagers approaching college age who started as founding Editorial Board members to middle-schoolers as young as 11. At meetings, about 15 editors take ownership of a dynamic process emblematic of KidSpirit. They gather once a month for several hours to review an average of six new articles, from 500 to 1,500 words long. Each editor marks up a copy, and the edits are emailed back to the writer after the meeting. Most articles go through two to three such rounds before publication. This live interaction between our young writers and the Editorial Board enlarges the discussion, spreading outwards far and wide to finally reach readers online, who can respond electronically, completing the circle.

In one recent Editorial Board meeting, we were fortunate to have a visit from a new young contributor from Afghanistan. This girl, just 15 years old, was in New York to give a speech about the extraordinary circumstances of her life, and was able to share in the editorial process. Nilab sat on the floor with a dozen or so teen editors, each scribbling on their own copy of an article in the process of being edited for publication. After a period of intense concentration, conversation erupted about the piece in question. The dialogue was vibrant but open and constructive, and as usual, the meeting concluded with cookies. Nilab’s fascination with the proceedings was palpable and she contributed much to our afternoon. It was incredible to witness her joy at the experience and the deep respect that her American peers felt for her.

Another ongoing relationship has come from a writer named Prerna who found KidSpirit from a web search while in her home city of Kolkata, India. Over the years, she has shared her views on Gandhi, written about the festival of Diwali and crafted a piece about meaning in life. Each of her submissions has been through a vibrant and interactive process with the editorial board, resulting in growth on all sides.

In many ways, KidSpirit is a reflection of our increasingly pluralistic world. It welcomes kids who identify themselves as belonging to a church, temple, or synagogue, as well as those who don’t. But most importantly, it offers an oasis for youth to pause while in the maelstrom of adolescence and to connect with each other respectfully on questions of meaning. To observe and facilitate that process is to be filled with wonder.

An earlier version of this article was published in the Parliament of the World’s Religions Blog, January 24, 2012