The days are long, but the years are short. It is what parents are often told through the challenges of parenting.
That resonates particularly thinking about children in today’s chapter of history.
As I watch my own children grow, I wonder every day as anyone who interacts with children might: how will the world around them unfold, and what should their role be?
When I kiss them goodnight in their beds, warm and safe, the heart hurts to think of the thousands of children who are not so safe, and upon whose heads violence is raining down.
It makes me wonder, what will children in 100 years say about the world today and what we did about it? Will they ask why we accepted as status quo situations that future generations will consider shocking? By considering such questions perhaps we can accelerate a change to eradicate and redress what may well come to be seen as the wrong side of history.
It is instructive to look back 100 years to see how even in our own purview what the status quo was once has been challenged and, in many cases, thankfully, brought to an end.
We see the radical shifts in societal attitudes that were once considered acceptable. At the beginning of the 20th century indentured servitude was practiced across the British Empire, and finally abolished in 1917 by the Gladstone Act. Women’s suffrage was only just coming on to the agenda. Even slavery was not outlawed fully until the mid-20th century. Civil rights and racial segregation in the US did not end until the 1960s. And apartheid in South Africa – with a controversial "constructive engagement" policy by the British government under Margaret Thatcher – only came to an end in 1994.
Up to 50 per cent of the world was under imperial rule 100 years ago. And 25 per cent of the world was colonies of the British Empire, ruling over 412 million people.
The imperial struggles were the backdrop to the world wars and created a carve up of the world with long legacies. The people in rooms drawing lines across the map did not have the peoples of those lands in their conversations. We find that mind-boggling now, but at the time what rights did the "natives", cast as "savages", have over their own lives and lands?
If that doesn’t provide sharp relief, then perhaps consider what we ought to have learnt. The 1918 flu pandemic led to deaths of an estimated 50 million people. In 2020, the Covid-19 pandemic reshaped our world again, and scientists have cautioned that it may not be the last global pandemic we live to see.
Along with politics, the international order and health, the shift in our relationship with global resources and climate has been paradoxical over the past century or so, but what will the children in the future make of it? In 1896, the first scientific paper about the idea of climate change was published and the facts gradually took hold. But the 20th century has also been an era of development, fossil fuel use, as well as trends like fast fashion, consumerism and products which it is cheaper to buy than to fix.
All of this makes me think, what will our children's grandchildren down the line say about present-day ethics or the way we use technology? In the way that we look back and are horrified by slavery, what will they say about our lack of support for global equality, access to education and healthcare? What will people look back and say about Palestine and Israel? What will be the condition of the earth and what choices will we be judged for when it comes to our treatment of nature and resources?
We have the power to make transformative change by addressing our behaviours, policies and asking ourselves what will children in the future make of things now, and how can we make things better for future generations? What do we need to do to deliver promises we make to them of a safe, respectful thriving future? As we kiss our children goodnight, it is something to think about.