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The Mowgli Factor

Mar 2, 2008

One of my favorite books growing up was All the Mowgli Stories, by Rudyard Kipling. It was fascinating to read about Mowgli’s adventures in the jungle, with Baloo the bear, and Kaa the python and Bagheera the panther. The stories were thrilling, for what boy wouldn’t like to trade insults with monkeys and run naked through the forest? Well, maybe modern cyber children wouldn’t like it. But I grew up without a television in the house, and the Internet wasn’t available back in the sixties. It seemed like a cool idea to be raised by wolves.

Now, in 2008, my wife and I have four children that are grown or almost grown. None of them were raised by wolves; at least I don’t think so. Some parents wonder if their teenagers were secretly replaced by aliens, with some other type of entities, but that’s another story. Our four children have absolutely no desire to run naked through the jungle, for they have been edumacated, and supposedly are not victims of what I like to call the Mowgli Factor.

The Mowgli Factor is the strange phenomenon that occurs when a child is partially or completely denied access to the thousands of years of culture, civilization, knowledge, ethics and spiritual teachings that have brought humankind forward to its relatively enlightened state. Unless a child is taught to be human, which one might define as being noble, unselfish, spiritually aware, imaginative, creative and just plain good, it is quite possible for a child to grow up and become a man or woman who knows absolutely nothing about anything. Worse, a child can be taught, or can learn by example, to be brutal and the very opposite of human. He or she might even believe that he or she is a wolf. Or wolfette.

One can imagine all kinds of scenarios, where parents live far away from all other humans, and teach their children that they are the only people left alive on earth, and that Martians ate everyone else. Or, one can watch the very fine movie, The Village, by M. Night Shyamalan, if one likes the idea of monsters in the woods. All this may seem rather fantastical, except for one grim dash of reality.

Children all over the world are influenced by the Mowgli Factor.

From participants in Jay Leno’s Jay Walk Hall of Fame, who don’t know a thing about history, to children raised in cultural poverty who have never heard the glorious music of Beethoven, to children of the al-Qa’ida terrorists who have been raised to hate America, one can see that education is the central factor that guides us to become saints or wolves, or perhaps even worse than wolves, dullards. At least a wolf has panache.

One might think that education is the process one only finds in schools, but in this context I mean the education that starts at home, with parents who try to instill the finest qualities of human behavior, starting with the education of their children’s hearts. I believe that education of heart is the education that shows and teaches children to love others; to gain joy by giving and receiving love; to be sensitive toward other’s feelings and to be emotionally strong in their ability to express love when life is difficult. As I have found to my chagrin, this type of education requires that the educator is actually mature and loving and patient and kind. I’d like to improve in that area. Still, even though we may be flawed as parents, I believe that it’s important to articulate and adopt the goal of educating children to become men and women of unselfish love.

It is also our responsibility as parents to find the way to provide cultural education for our children. I’m not talking about hoity toity wine and cheese attitudes that we know more than others. Even though I laugh every time I read D. H. Lawrence’s poem, “To be Superior”, I cringe at the realization that my own arrogance runs so deep that it may take a zillion years in the spiritual world to find true humility. One should not say, “I am the most humble person I know.”

No, I’m talking about the cultural education that gives children an intense love of love and beauty. A love for art, and music, and poetry, and stories, and adventures and new ideas. A love of learning and a love of harmony and kindness. The ineffable qualities of being truly alive that one gets in touch with when one sits in a beautiful spot in nature and breathes in the beauty and glory of God’s creation.

Although many parents and schools are doing a fine job, isn’t it true that many children around the globe are growing up without a grand vision of life that includes peace for all? A grand vision of life inspires us to do more with our lives than just eat, sleep and work at jobs of drudgery. Vision gives a child hope, and can come from many sources, including the core of goodness that exists inside each child.

Another source of vision is knowledge of history, and an appreciation for history. If we don’t have the perspective that comes from knowledge about the seminal events that have happened in recorded history, as well as prehistory, then we are living and acting from a dangerously vulnerable position. The Dark Ages were a prime example of what happens to a society when a critical mass of people lose track of history. It is not just facts and dates that are important, but the defining events of history that influence our understanding of what we should do now.

A grand vision of life, in my opinion, also requires a balanced view about the spiritual nature of human beings. The God or No God Question is indeed the question of the 21st century. Will we live as intelligent two legged wolves, or will we find a deeper meaning for life, stemming from a commonsense belief that our creativity and desire for love are attributes given to us by a transcendent Creator?

Will the 21st century be a century of Mowgli Children or a century of Geniuses and Saints? Will it be the age when children inherit all of the goodness that has come before them and then use that internal wealth to transform the world? My belief, and prayer, is that the 21st century will be the “Age of Illumination”, an age that will be ushered in by all of our efforts to teach our children that human beings are not wolves, but are magnificent beings created for lives of beauty and lives of love.

Once our children learn that, I’ll have no objection at all if they want to run naked through the jungle, as long as they’re kind to monkeys and don’t get bitten by spiders.

(Comments are moderated and must be approved.)
Peter Falkenberg Brown
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