Children's Books...Adult's Values
A wise man once quipped, “children see humanity differently than we. I think, because, they see humanity.” As I look back over my life I am always amazed that some of the most profound thoughts, ideas and views of life came out of books read while a child. “The Tortoise and the Hare”; success is not given to the swift but to those who persevere. “The Emperor’s New Clothes”; sometimes, that which we think is valuable and gives worth is really an illusion brought to light by a child’s innocence.
Recently, yet another “children’s” book came to mind as I pondered homelessness in Lake County: The Prince and The Pauper. For those of you who have not had the child-like pleasure reading this book, allow me to summarize in a few sentences.
Tom Canty, a pauper (very poor person) and Prince Edward (son of King Henry VIII) were identical in appearance. The two young boys meet, become friends and come up with a plan. Since they shared this uncanny resemblance, Tom and Prince Edward decided to switch clothes and live the other’s lifestyle. Isn’t that amazing? The only part of their lives they had to switch was their clothes and their entire status in life changed. Anyway, the pauper goes on to live as a prince and the prince goes on to live as a pauper.
The book leaves the reader asking this question; even though he was dressed as a beggar, shouldn’t someone have recognized the prince? Surely some of his royal nature outshined the grimy exterior of his clothing? But herein lies the rub. The people could not/refused to see past the exterior. Here was a man of great worth, dignity and value in their midst and they missed it because they were blinded by the deceitfulness that “the clothes make the man.”
Here, you might retort, there was NO WAY for anyone to identify the prince; he looked exactly like the pauper. But herein lies the rub. The people cared not to inquire further. One account in the book has a man pausing, assuming there was something “different” about this pauper, wanting to inquire, yet ultimately could not bear coming that close to a beggar. If only he would have asked? If only someone would have asked? Would it have made a difference? Which would have been more convincing to the people: the passionate plea that even though he was dressed like this he was worth something OR the smell that kept the people shackled to their belief that someone who smells like that couldn’t be royalty.
The books ends in an interesting fashion. It comes to light that the prince is the pauper and the pauper is the prince. However, the only way for people to believe who’s who is by one of them identifying where the ‘Great Seal’ is located. Well, the pauper who is pretending to be the prince did not know what the ‘great seal’ was, even though he used it every day. The prince who is pretending to the pauper knows what and where the ‘Great Seal’ is. When they bring the ‘Great Seal’ out the pauper who is pretending to be the prince exclaimed, “if anyone had bothered to describe the ‘Great Seal’ I could have showed them.”
I remember asking a 9 year old student the moral of this story. She looked at me and in jest said, “when hard times come, you better have a Great Seal.”
Hmm. I think that 9 year old student (as well as many of us), like the pauper, simply need a description of what that ‘Great Seal’ is. It is not, as the book showed, clothes, rank, status or material possessions.
Maybe the moral of the story is NOT, “look out, because there MIGHT be someone ‘special’ who is in your midst that you might not recognize due to appearances.” Maybe the moral of the story is, “look out, there IS someone ‘special’ in your midst that you are not recognizing due to appearances.”
And that is exactly the person who possesses the Great Seal: dignity, value and worth.
All of that to say, maybe “children’s books” are not just for children. Maybe children do not have to be the only ones who see humanity.