Global Outreach

The Culmination of my Internship in Poland: A Socratic Confession

Posted by Christopher McAttee on Aug 11, 2015 7:53:00 AM

I would like to begin with a quote from The Sorrows of Young Werther by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe: “…I call to mind the golden words of the Great Teacher of mankind, ‘Unless ye become like one of these!’ And now, my friend, these children, who are our equals, whom we ought to consider as our models, we treat them as though they were our subjects. They are allowed no will of their own. And have we, then, none ourselves?”

One should take note that the mission of CARITAS is “to create a worldwide community of sponsors, children and families, where relationships of compassion, trust, generosity and love foster the practice of true charity … 'living caritas'.” This can only begin when we start seeing children as our equals as von Goethe so poetically describes. This of course does not mean we stop teaching them or correcting them, for it is also our responsibility to nurture them in ways that will build aware and compassionate young adults, but what it does mean is to learn from the compassion that is required when working with children.

Werther’s point is that we should model our lives off of the behavior of children; their eagerness, their excitement, their joy, and their innocence. Why has becoming an adult meant being more competitive and more harsh? Why is it that we seem to grow up and face reality when ultimately if we kept some of our imagination and child-like interest in activities we could become far kinder and quicker to respond to a cry in distress?

Working with children has reminded me of many of these qualities that I have lost while away at school and while “growing up” and “becoming an adult.” My time here at the Centre of the Holy Mother of Mercy during my internship in Poland has shown just how rigid and structured my life has become and how blind I am to small darling things that children pick up on daily. 

One of my teachers, Julia.
One of my teachers, Julia.

So we are here to show compassion, but actually the compassion resides already in the children. So we are actually here to receive compassion. Their patience with my lack of language, their positive energy to do whatever field trip was assigned for that day, their eagerness to talk and ask questions, all these things I have learned from them – not the other way around.

John Locke is famous for his “tabula raza” idea, thinking that a child’s mind is like a blank slate, but I cannot believe that, especially after my time here during my internship in Poland. (Furthermore it’s not true when reading about child psychology.) I am talking about deeper things than just psychology. There are innate beautiful qualities in a child’s mind that are easily seen if you spend a few days with them.

Hubert is already driving.
Hubert is already driving.

I of course have to mention that children are not perfect little angels. Oh no, I have pulled apart fighting children, scolded them daily for misbehaving, and dealt with their sass from the first second they walk into the computer room. This is simply a battle between innocence and the harsh reality of the adult world. Sadly it is easy to see which one usually wins. As adults we tend to see children as simply “cute” or “naive” and post countless pictures online of them wearing their food, napping in the sun, or wearing ridiculous outfits.

Right – because it’s not like adults taking pictures of food, on the beach, or at a Halloween party are any different?

The main difference is that as adults we are far more afraid of being judged for asking questions, experimenting with our world, or even being kind and generous to one another. I have felt all of these things too, so without hesitation I put myself in this messy demographic. I am not trying to criticize anyone, I am just expressing my frustration in our flawed way of thought and living. I have had to say over and over again this summer “I don’t know” when I child asks me questions I cannot answer. Just accepting this fact and then expressing it is a dose of reality that is meditative, healthy, and far more real of us as humans. There is only so much we can say and do and when it comes to the point where we can do neither further, it is just best to say, “I don’t know.”

My charges, ready and willing for any field trip.
On a field trip to the Warsaw Zoo with the children from the Centre of the Holy Mother of Mercy.

My role here was minimal but exceptional. I was here to build their souls a little stronger, I was here to correct and discipline so that they may realize that fists are not the answer, but only fallacious slippery slopes. I was here to love unconditionally, because if it were any other act of love, it would be for my selfish benefit and not theirs.

So I would like to end this final blog post by simply saying “Thank you.” Thank you to CARITAS For Children for the opportunity they gave me. Thank you to my parents for always being there for me. Thank you for everyone at the center who has supported, fed, and taken care of me. Finally, thank you to the children I have met and from whom I’ve learned. Without all of you, I would still be thinking I knew far more than I know I don’t know now.



Topics: internship in Poland

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