Bertha Cooper

Think About It: ‘Children will listen’

“Careful the things you say.

Children will listen.”

Some of you will recognize the lyrics of this beautiful, poignant song. Music and lyrics were written by Stephen Sondheim and first appeared in the Broadway musical “Into the Woods” in 1987.

I have not seen the musical or the film. My exposure comes from a cut on one of my favorite Barbra Streisand CDs.

Lately, when I hear it, I feel what seems like deep sadness.

“Careful the things you do

Children will see and learn.”

How do we come to understand the drive to create uncertainty and hostile division and not consider the lessons it teaches our children?

Do we, the adults in the room, really want our children to live in fear and to learn to manage fear by turning on each other in anger and surrounding themselves by only the like-minded?

“Children will look to you for which way to turn

To learn what to be.”

I am writing this column fully one week before the Nov. 3 general election. You are reading it sometime following the election. I and you may or may not know the outcome of the election if the vote for any office is too close to call in which case we can expect considerable positioning, preening, threats and turmoil much like we are experiencing today.

I’m not sure what to expect if the election is a landslide in either direction in the presidential race. Either way there will be shock for supporters on both sides. Seems each expects to win and each expects to lose.

I am genuinely concerned that either way more tactics of vilification and intimidation will continue to be deployed, whether it’s wearing a mask or not or alleged pedophilia. I’m as concerned about blind loyalty to mindless causes and failure to examine the consequences of one’s own actions.

Listen to the language of destroying the reputation and future of anyone who might disagree with the preferred point of view. I’ve seen children with parents in the audiences of speakers calling for imprisonment without justice. We hear it everyday in the news. Does it not inspire fear and blind obedience? What will our children hear from us?

“Careful the tale you tell

That is the spell

Children will listen”

Maligning the ‘other’

“To plunder people of everything, you must plunder their humanity first.” (“The Pyromancer’s dream,” Ta-Nehisi Coates, Vanity Fair, September 2020)

Make the “other” less than human to then feel a bit better about destroying them. I suppose we could give humanity one-half credit for not going out and slaughtering people without some sort of justification. Except, who really knows what comes first — the desire to destroy and then the justification or the justification then the desire to destroy.

I worry most that human’s worst instincts have been fed and driven up the ante on hate and violence in the name of the righteous, sort of using uncivilized behavior to become civilized. If Trump and Republicans remain in power, it will be more of the same – witness the growing recognition of QAnon that survives, perhaps thrives on hate and threats for Democrats, any Democrat.

If Biden and Democrats gain the majority power, I do think Trump will glower in his alleged mistreatment and rally his followers to “hit them back and hard.”

Will followers continue to block their receptors to anything but their own voice regardless of the impact on businesses, individuals and the spirit of the country? What will we tell our children?

“Careful the wish you make

Wishes come true

Careful the spell you cast

Not just on children

Sometimes the spell may last.”

Lessons out of school

Will we have the strength of will to demand a civilized society and protect all our children from a fate worse than death in either election outcome? It won’t be easy; it’s gone on too long and too many have developed the thirst for power that will not be easily quenched.

We must understand the strength of the blind power behind the anger, fear and willful ignorance that binds a group of people behind a common mission that sets out to oppress and harm others. The lesson it teaches our children is that the desired objective is important enough to harm others who get in the way.

It’s an environment that doesn’t leave any of us including children much room for hope that we can peacefully solve differences. We should know that an environment that tolerates hurting those for simply disagreeing or being “different” from us breeds insecurity and fear and simply confirms a hopeless future for some.

Some children will rise above it, some will adopt the tactics as their own and some will just despair.

My tiny, third great-grandbaby inspires my worry about the lessons we are leaving our children. I want her to live in love, hope and security, not blind faith or trust, but with a confidence in herself that allows her to respect others even if she doesn’t agree. I want her to care what legacy she passes someday to her tiny baby.

“What do you leave to your child when you’re dead?

Only whatever you put in its head

Things that your mother and father had said

Which were left to them too.”

Bertha Cooper, featured columnist in the Sequim Gazette, spent her career years in health care administration, program development and consultation. Cooper and her husband have lived in Sequim more than 20 years. Reach her at

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