Proyecto Visión 21

“I am walking all the way to Canada” and other misunderstandings

Francisco Miraval

Many years ago, when I was still a teenager in my native Argentina, I attended a summer camp for children, organized by the church I belonged to at that time. I remember that one day a preacher spoke to the children about the story of the Exodus (when Israel left Egypt), saying that one day we will enter the “Promised Land”, or, in Biblical terms, Canaan.

To reinforce such a hopeful message, somebody taught a song to the children. The refrain of the song said, “I am walking on my way to Canaan / Praise the Lord”.

Everybody was happily singing the song, except for one boy. I noticed he was clearly preoccupied. I went to him and I asked him why he wasn’t singing. I still remember his answer: “Because I don’t want to walk all the way from here to Canada. It’s too far away”.

Obviously, not child should be blamed for not knowing Biblical names or Biblical metaphors about the “Promised Land”, or for not know stories from the Bible. In fact, it should be recognized that that boy knew his geography to the point of knowing Argentina and Canada are on opposite ends of the American continent, meaning too far way to walk.

In his mind, and using his knowledge (proper, of course, of his young age), that boy changed the meaningless (for him) “Canaan” into a meaningful “Canada”. But that change led him to create a nonsensical story about a preacher inviting children to a long walk across the continent.

I can still see in my mind the innocent fear in the face of that boy when faced with an impossible journey. I can imagine he couldn’t understand why others were so happy singing about a long and dangerous trip. The message that “One day things are going to be OK” that brought hope to others generated fear and almost desperation in him.

Because he was young, he didn’t have yet the critical thinking tools to analyze and even reject or modify his own beliefs and assumptions to solve the absurdity of the situation. He was so sure that the preaching and the song were about “Canada” that he had to create a fictitious, false, and unreal story to accommodate his ideas and understanding.

I can’t remember what I said, if anything, to that boy to let him know we were not talking about “Canada”. I am sure my own immaturity prevented me from saying anything. I am also sure that children are not the only ones that, because of their own ignorance, misunderstand things and create fantastic stories they accept as real, thus generating unfounded fears for their lives.

Many times I meet adults (myself included) unable to challenge their own beliefs, definitions, ideas, and concepts. They assume they are always right and everybody else is wrong. Those adults are unable to recognize their own ignorance and the limits of their knowledge. They can’t say, as Socrates did, “I only know I know nothing”.

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