Elise Boulding’s 1996 Backhouse Lecture

Yes, we underestimate our children: ‘Our Children, Our Partners’

Let us confess the miracle that so many children manage to grow up socially and spiritually whole. The God-seed is already present at birth. Some are in environments where the seed gets loving care and tending. We hope this is true for the children of our Meetings. Many more somehow find nurture in less supportive environments. Children can be sensitive to precious moments of beauty and caring opened up by an adult or another child in situations that might not even be noticed by others on the scene. Children can see beyond surfaces, and find hidden caring when it is there, including the caring of an often out-of-control and abusive parent. That capacity for in-depth seeing on the part of the abused child becomes a resource for breaking the often vicious cycle of abused children becoming abusing parents.

And then there are the children who apparently live in utterly barren and loveless settings, yet the seed of the spirit comes to flowering as the child matures. Somewhere in that child’s life a word of love has been spoken. With that word, the seed can flourish in barren soil, like the tree that takes root in a rocky crevice of a steep mountain side. The tree will grow toward the sky, nourished by the barest minimum of crumbled forest debris that winds have swept into the crevice, and by occasional trickles of water from passing storms.

Robert Coles, the psychiatrist who spent a lifetime studying and working with seriously troubled children, came to see after 30 years of this work that he had been ignoring a profound spiritual sensitivity that kept coming through in children’s responses to his very secular questions about their lives. Realizing that he had been missing something basic about how they were dealing with their lives, he then devoted several years to interviewing 8 to 12-year-old Muslim, Christian and Jewish children as well as children with no religious identification, about their faith and belief. These were all youngsters with serious problems.

Discovering an awesome spiritual maturity and self-insight in their answers to his questions about the meaning of life and their views of God, good and evil, he came to understand that children coped with their lives at a far deeper level than psychiatric analysis alone could reveal. They were being nurtured by sometimes very fragmentary sources of which the adults around them would not have been aware. A word of love had somehow been spoken to them.

from AYM website Quakersaustralia.info – under Publications-Backhouse Lectures                         

two bright sparks 

As a result of Elise’ visit these queries were compiled:

Children and Quaker Meeting. Queries and Ideas

A collection drawn from the life of Australia Yearly Meeting

Queries to adults

Do you value the children in your Meeting and help make them feel welcome?

Do you seek opportunities to involve children actively in every aspect of the life of the Meeting?

Do you remember that caring involves creating and environments where each child feels safe?

When children seem a burden or interruption to your adult plans are you able to adopt a flexible, balanced approach to ensure their needs are met as well as yours?

Are you open to the ministry of children of all ages, however it may be expressed?

Do you pass on your Quaker values and beliefs in an effective way?

Do you involve children in your Meeting’s decision making?

What do we want to pass on to our children?

 Awareness of God.

To give children a sense of their own worth?

To look at the world as a whole and not a lot of separate parts?

To know their own or others’ rights –including the Rights of the Child

To have a sense of their own protection and how to ask for help.

Reverence for the universe – a deep awareness of the natural world.

That everyone needs to give and receive love.

Sensitivity to gender issues.

That everyone is equal.

The gifts of love.

A love of music and the arts.

A love of precise, coherent and accurate communication.

A sense of fun – no guilt – a joy of life – a sense of their own uniqueness.

A sense of humanness and fellowship – the reality that making money is only a means to an end.

Stories from the Bible, Aborigines and Quakers. A love of life.

To be sure first, then courageous about convictions.

This planet is alive.


A sense of worth in all things and in themselves.

To be friends with older and younger people, even with their own parents.

Quaker values.

A closer sense of right and wrong – truth, beauty.

Acceptance of different lifestyles.

A questioning of authority.

Courtesy – respect for dignity and the needs of others.

Appreciating people’s differences. A sense of belonging to a Quaker community.

Queries to children

Why do we go to Meeting?

Have you made friends with some adults in the Meeting? Would you like to?

Is the Meeting a place where you think about the kind of person you would like to be?

Do you look for that of God in others that you meet?

What are the good things you have seen in yourself today?

Do you accept responsibility for what you do?

What is the importance of truth?

How can you sort out arguments that you become involved in without using violence?

What can you do to make your Meeting a more Friendly place?

Compiled by Children’s Committee Australia Yearly Meeting January 1996 – Canberra based