Yuck!

by L. G. William Chapman, B.A., LL.B.

There are two things I don’t do well – Third World and children. Interestingly they have certain commonalties, like lack of development, general austerity and forbidding unfamiliarity. Fortunately for me (and trust me I am not circumscribing the experience of others by my own confessed dearth of initiative) it isn’t often I am either inclined or obliged to confront either vernacular.

Coincidentally only recently I was discussing with someone the noticeable advantages I discovered early in life of traveling First Class. Should you care to know, the instance under discussion was a jaunt many years ago to The Pierre in New York City.  While there I called upon the concierge to arrange tickets for a Broadway show.  The evening we arrived at the theatre there was a long line-up in front of the ticket office.  One of the theatre ushers asked me what I was doing and when I told him I wanted to collect tickets arranged for us by The Pierre hotel we were instantly hustled around the line-up of people to the wicket whence we were escorted to our box seats near the front of the theatre.  It all happened so quickly that it was only in retrospect that I pieced together what had at the time been the unwitting confluence of circumstances that led to our being treated so deferentially.  Remember I was  then only cultivating my initiation into society (just barely out of law school) and I can honestly say I hadn’t any expectation of things having gone so swimmingly. Naturally I have since learned to avail myself of concierge services remorselessly (though once I was taken aback by a white-faced butler at the Plaza who invited us to call upon him if there were anything – and he emphasized anything – we might require).

Anyway I seem to have lost the thread of my purpose, it wasn’t to talk about traveling First Class, rather about children.  Today marked an historic event in my life (more precisely an ill-fated flop). And it had everything to do with children.  I should first back up to explain that about two or three weeks ago I casually read an article in our local e-newspaper The Millstone News about the opening of the Mississippi Mills Youth Centre (MMYC).  Apart from the obvious, what distinguishes this iteration of what was formerly called TYPS (Take Young People Seriously) is that it is independent of the Municipality (which I take it is code for being funded by persons other than local municipal taxpayers). I had had something to do with TYPS when they  moved from their original digs in the old Almonte Hotel on Bridge Street across from the Legion to their new space in a property located adjacent my office parking lot. Frankly all I recall about that proximity was escalated noise and garbage both of which were unwelcome by-products of the Young People we were encouraged to Take Seriously.  Once I recall during one of their especially large and boisterous gatherings (which spilled onto the street in front of my law office) I elbowed my way through the crowd of youths to pick up the proliferation of waste paper and garbage they were abandoning over the entire area – plastic cups and plates and wrappings, etc.  My presence there was virtually unnoticed.  Not one of the children made any effort to fathom what I was doing or why (much less to follow my example).

That recollection should have been my first clue to what transpired today, years afterwards. Apparently children, like the weather, are just more of the same.  Nonetheless I was inspired several weeks ago to write an email to the local Councillor whose name appeared at the foot of the newspaper article about MMYC and to suggest I might offer to lead a short discussion about the more abstract features of law for the general benefit of the children.  It has been the eternal regret of my own youth that I never had an introduction to law so I thought I might exonerate that deprivation for others at this time. The Councillor upon receiving my email exercised the appropriate politic answer and referred the matter to the Program Coordinator of MMYC.  In fairness my proposal was not initially received with much enthusiasm by the Program Coordinator:

We have tried a few lecture based approaches with our youth and are finding they do not respond well to this. If you have an interactive way of sharing your knowledge with the youth that would be awesome.

Given what I now know, clearly I entirely missed the thrust of the Program Director’s observation and instead replied that I would inflict upon the children a skilful manipulation of the proverbial Socratic method to elicit from them what I fashioned in my mind to be the untapped and outwardly impenetrable resources of the youth. The problem is I hadn’t anticipated that the sine qua non for any expatiation no matter how delectably presented is an audience.  The Program Coordinator’s tepid observation should have been my second clue of what was to come.

The third and most telling clue which struck me with palpable force was that upon my arrival at the MMYC in fine fettle to render my best possible performance to today’s leaders of tomorrow, I noted with considerable dismay that upon the bulletin board at the entrance there was no mention whatsoever of my intended palaver. There were by contrast other items listed for the identical time slot 3:00 – 4:00 pm which I had understood was for me. Upon entering the singularly dark and gloomy space (really just a large box surrounded by concrete blocks which originally housed a convenience store) there was a long table at which sat two young girls playing cards with the person whom I learned was the Program Coordinator (and they nibbled upon crudités and dip); and in addition a large black faux leather couch on which sat several youngsters watching a hockey game on TV (or what I was later informed was actually playing Xbox whatever that is).  There was what appeared to be an office set apart from the main room but I couldn’t decipher who was in there or what they were doing.

The Program Coordinator almost instantly acceded that it was doubtful whether anything in the nature of a discourse about law would happen. She repeatedly asked me what if anything I wanted her to tell the boys who were gripped by their television game.  Meanwhile I was effectively transfixed by the uncomfortable realization that I had totally miscalculated my ambition.  I was enormously reluctant to interrupt the boys in their playful pursuits (though I did attempt to gauge what scintilla of interest might be percolating in their heads concerning my presence).  Of course it did not help that the Program Coordinator – for reasons best known to her – dared not announce to the boys any scrap of information arising from my arrival upon the scene. Once again I had succeeded to evaporate among the multitude of children who (to my added dismay) one by one began filtering out the front door of the Centre. It was then that I unmistakably confirmed MMYC was merely a drop-in and drop-out centre. The practicability of levelling formality of any description now seemed more remote than ever.

At last even the Program Coordinator had seamlessly disappeared leaving me withering and bewildered at the end of the long table.  A young gentleman materialized and advised he was a “youth worker”. We discussed his academic career and future professional aspirations.  We were subsequently joined by another worker similarly aged (about 25 years) who lamented that nothing had been done to advertise my scheme (a disappointment which I listened to with undisguised conviction).  When however the two young workers began thrashing about the odds of a return engagement and the manner of its promotion, I took the matter in hand and stated that I was pressed for time and that – in a nutshell – I didn’t give a damn. I could see no point exhausting my default audience with whimsical proposals. At that juncture I was close to being a deflated balloon and resuscitation was not in the cards.

As a result the select children of MMYC will continue through what I imagine to be the customary progression of children everywhere, oblivious of even the most abstract features of law, entirely unequipped to address any product of that  imposition that is law. Whatever hope I had to inspire even one thought about the protocol of law (especially as it might relate to Canada’s 150th anniversary) was forever lost in that moment.  In hindsight I am perhaps serving the profession more usefully to insulate the public from the perceived esoteric niceties of law as convinced as I was that unknowingly the children contain within themselves the instinctive elements of legal knowledge – such as fairness, equality, proportionality, etc.

To say I view this eclipse as a defeat would be absurd. It does however harden me in my view of children (and by extension the Third World).  It serves no useful purpose to delineate my sentiments in either regard.  Some things are just not a good fit.