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How to teach children wisdom - with Maggie White

When many of us think about being wise, we automatically think that wisdom, and the experience, knowledge and good judgement that comes with it, is something that we acquire with age, and as such, something that is impossible to pass onto our little ones.

Maggie White, great grandmotherBut if you scratch beneath the surface, you’ll find that simply isn’t true. Research has shown that time and time again, wisdom is actually a function of mindset and an individual’s ability to understand, learn from their mistakes, and grow and change as a resultWith that in mind, how do you teach children wisdom? Here at Ethicool Books, a big part of our mission is to nurture wise and knowledgeable children, and empower them to create change. And yet, we can’t do that alone, so that’s why when gorgeous 85 year-old great-grandma, Maggie White, contacted us and let us know that she’d just purchased two of our latest titles, our climate change themed book, Uncle Marlow’s Machine, and our beautiful ocean pollution story, Ella and the Exploding Fish, we couldn’t help but want to understand more about her, her incredible life, and just how she thinks we should all impart wisdom onto our little ones. 

Born amidst fear in war-torn London 

Many world leaders have been comparing this year’s coronavirus pandemic to a war. But for those who remember what World War II was like, the comparison isn’t quite right. 

While many of us have felt frustrated by playgrounds being closed or slight cabin fever from being inside so much, the sheer and real terror that Maggie regularly dealt with as a young child is hard to imagine. As a little girl, hiding became a regular passtime, Maggie says: 

“Often, with little warning, we’d have to run down to the cellar when the bombs went off.” 

WW2 London
Often, children in London would awake to find their homes completely destroyed. Source: Wikimedia Commons

Fortunately, Maggie’s family home survived and she was able to grow up in London without incident. However, given it was wartime, this wasn’t without sacrifice. Soon after the war started, rationing began, with petrol being rationed first, followed by bacon, butter and sugar, and finally cheese, eggs, milk and even clothing. The government officially tested the rations to ensure they were enough to keep people alive, but they were far from plentiful. The minimum butter ration was 57 grams, which, for comparison, would not be enough to make a batch of muffins in today’s terms. Many people did it extremely tough. 

Ration book
Ration books limited the amount of goods citizens could obtain, including clothing. Source: Wikimedia Commons. 

Maggie’s family did a wonderful job of ensuring she was fed, though. But she does have a slightly disturbing memory of something in her home being reused: 

“It was a clear and cold day after the war had finished, and my brother took me to the park. I was freezing, and he handed me a pair of fur gloves.” 

“I asked him where he got them from. As it turned out, my pet rabbit had been repurposed.” 

Throughout the coronavirus pandemic, there have been reports worldwide of food disappearing off shelves, with items in low supply (temporarily) including toilet paper and pasta. For many of us, though, there were often viable alternatives and long-term deprivation wasn’t an issue. 

When comparing this situation to an actual prolonged war, Maggie believes a lot has changed. While generations of yesteryear were always repairing and reusing things, Maggie does believe that we’ve become quite used to a “convenience” society, and with that, comes a lot of waste: 

“Back then, lots of people had a lot less. We reused everything because we had to.” 

“Nowadays, everything is plastic and single-use. In just my lifetime, I’ve seen a massive build up of plastic pollution, killing our fish and oceans. It has to stop.” 

Ethicool’s beautiful story, Ella and the Exploding Fish, explores plastic pollution in a meaningful, yet relatable way.

A jet-setting life and a move to Australia

After the war finished, Maggie got a job in an engineering firm, where she met her Prince Charming. Soon, his job required him to move to Copenhagen, so Maggie found herself in a different place entirely. 

Nowadays, the Nordic countries are well-known for their impeccable level of English. Yet back when Maggie lived there, English wasn’t as widely spoken, and so she quickly picked up the local language: 

“At first, Danish was hard, but I made a lot of effort to learn and relatively quickly, I could speak it quite well.” 

Maggie had three of her gorgeous daughters in Copenhagen, before moving back to London and then emigrating to Australia in 1968. 

The Australia of 1968 was not the one we know now, though. The population of Australia was less than half of what it currently is, and many of the sprawling suburbs we call home were mere bushlands. Most metropolitan trains were yet to be built, and some things that many of us haven’t seen for a long time were a regular feature of life. 

Australian $2 note
When Maggie came to Australia in 1968, Australia had just converted from pounds and shillings to dollars and cents. The $1 and $2 note were in wide circulation. Source: Wikimedia Commons.

Maggie settled into life in Australia, but it wasn’t without its challenges. As a very family-oriented person, Maggie remembers a feeling of crushing homesickness: 

“Nowadays, there are hundreds of flights to the UK from Australia and they’re quite affordable. But years ago, that wasn’t the case. My family felt so far away and I was quite homesick.” 

“It was a feeling that took at least 6 months to go away, to be honest.” 

Life in Australia 

Since moving to Australia, Maggie’s family has grown and grown. She now has eleven grandchildren, and eight wonderful great grandchildren. And in her many years in Australia, Maggie believes she’s seen a monumental amount of change. Yet a few things stick out to her: 

“Kids today have to worry about not talking to strangers. I find this really sad because I remember my kids always used to say hello to someone in my street.” 

However, it is not only stranger danger that is a concern for Maggie. Given the recent bushfires, she’s also worried for her grandchildren and her great grandchildren’s future: 

“I am concerned about climate change. Not necessarily for me, but for my family.”

“My grandchildren, especially, find this issue hugely concerning and felt compelled to help during the latest disastrous bushfire season.” 

Uncle Marlow’s Machine has been described as “THE kids’ book about climate change.” 

Why do we need to teach kids wisdom? 

If there’s one thing that Maggie’s incredible 85 years has taught her, it’s that a lot can change, and relatively quickly. For this reason, she thinks that it’s important to teach kids about the world as early as possible, so they can navigate it with confidence, make better judgements, and ultimately, do so with kindness. 

Understanding the world and people around you means you’ll have more empathy, Maggie believes. And empathy in the single most important lesson Maggie wants to teach her great grandchildren:

“I have raised four beautiful children, and looked after many grandchildren and great grandchildren, but my main lessons haven’t changed. And they are: be kind to everyone and don’t bully or hurt anyone.”

“And care for each other and the planet.”

How do we teach kids wisdom?

After living such a full and rich life, Maggie certainly believes that she’s reached the age where she could be called wise. At the same time, though, she wouldn’t wish some parts of her experience on others - certainly not the experience of war, for example. Ultimately though, Maggie doesn’t think these experiences are essential for being wise. In fact, she thinks that there is one simple thing we can all do to help our children be more wise: 

“For children, seeing is believing. So if you want your children to be kind and loving, to make good decisions, and to care for people and the planet, you have to role model this yourself. You have to be the person you want your children to become.” 

Maggie White is a treasured member of our Ethicool community who lives in the Mornington Peninsula in Melbourne, Australia. Despite being 85 years old, she is totally crushing technology and sent us the responses for this article through Instagram. 

This series is part of our Inspiring the Next Generation series. Are you part of our community and doing something great to inspire the next generation? If so, we’d love to write about you! Get in touch to find out more. 

1 Comment

  • What a truly inspiring story! Thank you Teigan and Maggie for bringing us back to a time a lot of us never knew, to learn and appreciate what we have and to learn how we can make better use of it. I am also a huge advocate of empathy and kindness, something me and my husband often discuss with our kids. To be more aware of the people and environment around them and to really listen and look beyond what they see.

    Cecilia Cabalquinto on

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