January 1, 2009
Robert Coles —
The Inner Lives of Children

Psychiatrist Robert Coles has spent his career exploring the inner lives of children. He says children are witnesses to the fullness of our humanity; they are keenly attuned to the darkness as well as the light of life; and they can teach us about living honestly, searchingly and courageously if we let them.

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is Professor Emeritus of Psychiatry and Medical Humanities at Harvard Medical School. He's the author of many books, including the Pulitzer Prize-winning series Children of Crisis and The Moral Intelligence of Children and The Spiritual Intelligence of Children

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Part of our SoundSeen series: our staff deliberates on cutting a dated reference and its value for current perspective.

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Children's Letters from Ground Zero

Children are witnesses says Dr. Coles. These selected images lining the pews and walls of St. Paul's Chapel after 9/11 give meaning to his statement.

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"Leo" - an ink and watercolor painting.

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The idea that we lose some of our interest in the world as we grow up and become adults is a very intriguing topic. Remembering the past can be very difficult, but there some qualities that I wish I had kept from my early childhood. As I have gone through my growth process and started to become more career-oriented, I lost some of the spontaneity and intrigue in the world.
Although I do not understand religious aspects that Coles talked about I understood how prophets had opened themselves to mystery. In a lot of ways I have let mystery pass me by as I have strived to move on, rather than stop to take a break and ask questions. In a fast-pace world it is more difficult to stop to ask questions and embrace mystery rather than shun it.
Another topic that I gave some thought was how as adults in this country we do not want to subject children to suffering. Although it is a part of life and children begin to process the ideas of pain, suffering and frailty; we still try to hide these facts of life anyways. Personally, I had to go through my own suffering to grow and learn as person, but I did not start addressing that until very recently.
Searching for a purpose in life is interesting and sometimes confusing, but what Coles brings up raises the question of why am I here? That childish intrigue and goal to discover meaning and purpose in life is worth delving into, to stop and think rather than to just do and move on. Human experience is valuable, I think that reflection is important because if I do not do this I lose track of who I am or want to be.
There are so many different topics I could branch off on here, but I think that was part of Coles’ studies and message in this interview. This interview struck my interest by opening a more child-like mindset when conducting my personal affairs and not being afraid to ask questions or act spontaneously.