Reuter, T., Feiman, R. & Snedeker, J. (in press). Getting to no: Pragmatic and semantic factors in two- and three-year-olds’ understanding of negation. Child Development.
This message from SRCD President Ron Dahl seems worth sharing as we begin the new year.
Winter solstice 2016. Six weeks ago the U.S. election created a seismic event—a sudden massive shift in the geopolitical terrain that is still sending shock waves around the world. Today—as Earth’s angling orbit around the sun is creating the longest night of the year in the northern hemisphere—seems an apt time to pause and take our bearings. The Inauguration on the West Lawn at noon on January 20th 2017 is still a month away. We may need to endure several more solstices before we are able to grasp the true impact of these events. The range of predictions varies wildly.
One thing is clear: a massive disruption has occurred. It has shifted the bedrock of what many of us had regarded as normalcy in U.S. political leadership. It has unhinged longstanding assumptions about the U.S. role in a rapidly changing and challenging global context. Such disruption of norms is exactly what many voters were seeking. Yet, as most of us are distressingly aware, upheavals can have dire consequences. Many in our nation, and across the world, are experiencing this period of tumultuous change as extremely threatening—including millions who are living in visceral fear of the future.
As members of a Society devoted to advancing developmental science and promoting its use to improve human lives, we are facing difficult challenges. Many of us feel that our core values and life work are under threat. We fear a fundamental de-valuing of our science in a ‘post-truth’ era of fake news. We abhor the rise in misogyny, bigotry, racism, and hate spewing crowds that many of us have witnessed. Most importantly, we see all of these dangers through an amplifying lens: their profound threat to the well-being, development, and future of children. All children.
How can we respond?
On one hand, with several thousand members spanning more than 50 countries, SRCD encompasses a diverse range of perspectives—making it impossible to speak with one voice for our entire organization. On the other hand, to say nothing in the face of what many of us regard as a time of great danger to our fundamental mission feels deeply wrong. So, I would like to take this opportunity to offer some personal reflections—emphasizing three points—and to make one pragmatic call to action.
The first point is captured in the wise advice of Maya Angelou, in Letter to My Daughter:
You may not control all the events that happen to you,
but you can decide not to be reduced by them.
It seems crucial that we not allow ourselves to feel defeated or diminished. Even if key people in power may disagree with our priorities, or seem to de-value our work and mission, we can decide—as individuals and as organizations—not to be reduced. We can actively choose the opposite path. We can engage more strongly in activities that create feelings of empowerment and larger purpose. By doing good science. By advocating powerfully for the values and inclusiveness that we believe in. By aligning our efforts toward heartfelt goals—which for many of us include the prioritization of science and policy that contribute to improving the lives (and the futures) of children.
A comment by President Obama just after the election, conveys a second important point:
Sometimes history zigzags.
It is important to take the long view. Growth, development, and progress rarely proceed in a simple linear fashion. What we experience as failures or tragic disappointments in the moment, often can be recognized later as the setbacks, barriers, and backslides that had to be overcome to achieve success. Emphasizing this perspective does not trivialize the magnitude or duration of the struggles. On the contrary, it is precisely when we are in the midst of the most daunting challenges that this perspective can become most critical. Not as some glib, abstract, optimistic statement. But rather, as way to kindle the authentic feelings of hope and inspiration that power resilience and perseverance.
A third relevant principle is highlighted by a quote from John F. Kennedy:
Our most basic common link is that we all inhabit this planet.
We all breathe the same air. We all cherish our children’s future.
We must find more effective ways to counter the divisive forces that are tearing our nation—and our world—to pieces. Of course there is no simple formula or straightforward solutions. The factors and conflicts that divide us are extremely complex. Progress will require multi-faceted efforts. Yet, among these efforts, let us not underestimate the potential for the unifying power of caring about our children’s future.
There are hundreds of organizations throughout the world devoted to children. SRCD is one of the largest organizations with a mission focusing on the science of child development. We should give careful consideration as to how we, as individuals and as an organization, can add uniquely to larger concerted efforts. We should strategize regarding how to best channel our energies and efforts to have a positive impact—in ways that align with these heartfelt goals and priorities. In ways that can help inspire others to unify.
A call to action:
We want your help. We seek stronger engagement from our members. We want you to share your ideas and to contribute energy and action to our plans. One way to contribute thoughts is through our portal. A more dynamic way to come together and share ideas is the upcoming Biennial Meeting, where we are planning a special pre-conference on Wednesday afternoon April 5th. We envision a summit of thought leaders spanning several areas of expertise, to discuss how our organization, and more broadly, our field, can best contribute to positive change in this time tumultuous change and uncertainty. The speakers and panelists will be finalized and announced in March. We recognize that a lot can change in the next few months. With luck, things in April may look much better than we fear. Or, by then we may feel an even more compelling need to come together to discuss big-picture strategy and prioritizes. We ask that you consider holding this space open in your plans.
In closing, I would like to add one personal reflection on this winter solstice. Some who have experienced great struggle to persevere through daunting circumstances have discovered this: While we are in the midst of the longest, most difficult, and loneliest darkness, our rational knowledge that the sun will rise again can seem like a cold, distant, and irrelevant fact. It is only through feelings of larger connection—to those we love, to what we love, and to what gives meaning to our lives—that this knowledge can inspire hope. There is wisdom in nurturing these deep emotional connections. In ourselves and in others. Then, when we most need it, we may be able to feel the hope that underpins our understanding that this darkness is only transient.