Baddies are still cartoonish characters in the mind of my five-year-old boy. But sadly, he is becoming increasingly aware that bad things do happen, and that there are bad people out there. Like most parents, we always try to shield him from unnecessary fears, even if we are only delaying the inevitable.
Driving past an army base the other day, I took the opportunity to tell him that the army is there to stop any baddies coming over here. “That’s a good idea,” he said cheerfully.
Yet it’s only a matter of time before he hears about the real-life baddies that loom large in the adult mind, be they the barbaric beheaders of Isis or the more prosaic baddies closer to home, responsible for the stories of rape, theft and murder that appear in our news bulletins each day. And what will he think of humanity when, as an older boy, he learns in history of the concentration camps and gas chambers?
Like all children, the days of his innocence are sadly numbered. It’s funny how the problem of evil can insert itself into our conversations in odd ways. He loves maps and poring over a map of the world the other day, he said suddenly: “Tell me about a country I don’t know about. Tell me about this one,” he said, randomly putting his finger down on Jamaica.
I tell him it’s a lovely faraway country, with sandy beaches and palm trees and warm blue water to swim in. He said, “If it’s far away how did people go there?” I answer, hesitantly, “Well, you won’t believe this, but a long long time ago people sailed on ships before there were airplanes and some bad people, like pirates, took other people from Africa to Jamaica to make them do all the work. Wasn’t that mean?” He was indignant. “That was so mean! I can’t believe they did that!”
Luckily, I tell him, some goodies stopped them and now that doesn’t happen anymore – that was only in the olden days. Except, I thought with a sinking heart, even that’s not true; there are still baddies who take slaves in Syria, Iraq, Nigeria and elsewhere.
I determinedly move on to happier facts about Jamaica. I even put a Bob Marley video on the iPad. Bob, quite wisely, sings “don’t worry about a thing, cos every little thing is gonna be alright” – and it is.
Too often, media takes what are, viewed objectively, rare and isolated incidents of evil and magnifies them, slickly editing them to make our unprecedented age of peace and prosperity seem fraught with danger to the modern mind.
We are willing devourers of this version of reality. Yet, despite the best efforts of the baddies, fewer people per head of population in the world nowadays die of violence than at any time in human history. We have never lived so long or so healthily, on the whole. The developing world really is developing at a pace, and thousands of people are being lifted out of poverty every day.
The world into which we have brought our children ain’t so bad. In fact, it’s never been better, viewed objectively. New technologies that will make life easier, safer and more prosperous see just around the corner: cheap energy, self-driving cars and major breakthroughs in health care are on the near horizon.
Still, our fallen and foolish species seems to find new ways to make misery and to make mistakes, even as we take giant leaps forward in our age of technological flux.
A child born today could easily live to see the year 2100. Imagine what changes they will see. The future is routinely imagined as dystopian by Hollywood blockbusters, yet this generation of children are being parented and educated more kindly, and better, than in the past.
If we instil in them the values of being kind to others, not being greedy and remaining rooted in good values, there’s no reason that on the whole the world they create won’t be more utopian than dystopian.
Maybe I’m just being naive, but I’d rather think like Bob: every little thing is going to be alright. It’s certainly a virtue to hope so, anyhow.