Life's big questions: KidSpirit gives tweens, teens a place to discuss the spiritual and philosphical
"That's very empowering and it's exciting to hear from your peers about your writing," she said. "It's not only educational ... but it encourages kids to push themselves into a much deeper level of thinking."
The quality of expression in the topics the kids tackle belies their youth as they write about science and spirit, myth and meaning, conflict and peacemaking, ethics and morality, and the most recent issue of money and value. Each edition has sections that divide the theme into various categories including, The Big Question, Awesome Moments, Poetry, Interfaith Connections and Perspectives — which is a piece by a "spiritual elder" or adult.
"While there are questions I can’t answer, I do know that true happiness is not a piece of clothing. It is not an expensive car. It doesn’t have a price tag attached to it. True happiness is something that we find in ourselves, as humans," wrote high school freshman Sidarth Jayadev in a piece exploring the question of whether money buys happiness.
At a recent brainstorming session to determine the topics of future editions, the kids discussed ideas ranging from the future to beauty and aesthetics, to gender and even abortion. But Hochman, who encourages discussion, said KidSpirit won't pursue topics that are politically charged and can make people angry.
"Not that we are Pollyannaish, but we want to create content that gives people a sense of common purpose and mutual respect," she said.
The bigger picture
Learning to listen to and understand people of different backgrounds during the formative ages of 11-17 will go a long ways toward building bridges between different cultural and religious traditions in the future, said Mary Dickey, a spokeswoman for the Odyssey Networks, which promotes religious literacy and interfaith dialogue.
"We don't expect people to be converted to another point of view. That's not what we are talking about," Dickey said. "We're talking about religious literacy that is so important going forward to peace in our communities, to civilized dialogue and to peace in the world."
De Kock said his organization's purpose in organizing chapters on hundreds of college campuses is to identify and develop leaders in the interfaith movement who will help make cooperation between differing religions a social norm. IFYC often uses service projects as a way to bring people of varying backgrounds together and recognize common values.
"As our communities get more diverse, our future success will depend on how well we build relationships across religious difference," he said. "In the U.S., the forces of religious pluralism have always defeated the forces of prejudice. That's not inevitable, though. We must step forward and write the next chapter in our great story of religious pluralism."
Hochman said it's not her intent to nurture a generation of activists — although if that is the direction some want to go she has no problem with that.
Instead, the objective of KidSpirit is two-fold: Give kids a quiet place on the Internet for reflection and contemplation, and provide a framework for creative, educational and positive interaction with peers who share your interests and concerns.
"I don’t really have a single goal about the way a child should be affected by (KidSpirit), but more than that, it should be something that would be a positive vehicle for growth — spiritual, emotional and social."
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