I know I wonder about the effects on my grandchildren of violent video games.
Imagine the effects on the children of Syria – or the Central African Republic – or South Sudan – when the horrors and violence they see are not virtual, but real.
Surrounded by such violence, Syrian children – millions of whom are without education or the counselling they need to overcome the traumas they have endured – are at risk of becoming a lost generation.
Lost, because so many of these children are missing the opportunity to fulfil the dreams they have for themselves. Lost, because many of these children could come to see violence and hatred as somehow normal – and replicate it as adults. A generation which could become hardened, not healed – and seek revenge, not reconciliation. This threat to an entire generation of children, and thus the future of Syria, is real.
But what of us?
As we near the third grim anniversary of the conflict in Syria, we adults watch horrifying scenes of suffering on television and videos gone viral. Are those images inuring us to these horrors? Are we losing the human sensibilities that should rebel at the suffering of children and thus compel a sense of outrage – making people around the world demand action by governments and the parties involved? Action to put a stop to the conflict, to provide access to all those in need … and to support humanitarian responses not only in Syria but in other dire emergencies as well?
In short, is our generation – we who are failing to stop the suffering or adequately deal with the human consequences of the carnage – also becoming ‘lost?’
Since our origins, human beings have been highly adaptable. Sometimes, too much so. Are we now adapting to climate change, at great cost, rather than doing all we can to prevent it? And are we adapting to a world of increasing violence, rather than summoning the will to end and prevent it?
To assume so could be a self-fulfilling prophecy of pessimism.
I meet children around the world who, even in the most dire circumstances, talk with hope about becoming doctors, teachers, leaders for change. About a better world than the one they now see.
We adults owe them not the apathy of adapting to current or future Syrias, South Sudans, and Central African Republics. We need to draw on the children’s sense of hope and determination, and match it with our own sense of outrage. The collective outrage that demands an end to these conflicts. That says, finally, Enough!
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Anthony Lake became the sixth Executive Director of the United Nations Children’s Fund in May 2010, and formerly served as the Chairman of the US Fund for UNICEF.