What Is the Weight of an Idea?

Above drawing by Cathy Pupin

Weight of an idea

What is the weight of an idea? How does one measure it? Does an idea weigh as much as a table? As much as a box on a table? Is it lighter than air?

I think, therefore I am; I have an idea, therefore I exist. This is the weight of an idea.

An idea carries the weight of existence.

These were the thoughts of Quentin, an ATD Volunteer Corps member based in Noisy-le-Grand, France. He works at ATD’s cultural centre there, supporting families who struggle to find their place in society. Children of these families hold the notion that they are ‘troublemakers’ or rebellious. However, Quentin meets them on their own terms. He finds these ‘troublemakers’ to be anything but, and he admires their tenacity.

He listens to their ideas. To him,

“their ideas are not whims, but dreams that they keep from one night to the next, from week to week, and sometimes from one year to the next. It’s impressive consistency for children whose lives are full of unexpected events.”

One remarkable idea

Below, Quentin shares the story of one remarkable idea.

Late one evening at the end of November, just as night began to fall, I read a book with Daniel. In the book, there is a picture of a mountain, and at the foot of it is a market stand filled with delicious food.

“I have an idea!” exclaims Daniel. “For Christmas, we should build a stand and give ice cream to people!”

I share Daniel’s idea with other children. They all get involved, and we begin building the stand. For a month Daniel looks to me for confirmation: “It’s my idea, right, it’s my idea?”

The idea makes Daniel’s father, an unemployed mason, very happy.

“it’s my idea!”

All December long Daniel whispers to me as we build: “it’s my idea!”. The ice creams turn into crepes. A few days before Christmas, on a frosty Wednesday, we distribute chocolate-filled crepes to passers-by at the stand. We cook hundreds of them.

The impact of Daniel’s idea is self-evident, but what ensures Daniel’s idea has value is that it was heard and acted on.

That it became reality with the help of his friends.

The children of the cultural centre in Noisy-le-Grand have ambitious ideas. They want their ideas to be taken seriously. They want it known that they are capable of success.

On Fridays, when I take Daniel home after his reading time at the cultural centre, he often asks me to telephone a ghost, a monster, or Santa Claus. I play along. When he does this, it is because children continue to believe. They believe in ghosts, and monsters, and Santa Claus. They believe that adults will help them, even when they have been disappointed in the past.

We are responsible for keeping that hope alive. We have a responsibility to teach children not to be afraid of the world. To reassure them that their ideas are worth acting on —they carry the same weight as any other.

Your support

We learn from Daniel that when we spend time with children — creating, making a child’s idea a reality— we have the opportunity to give hope and shape a life.

Activities with children are good, but building a relationship and creating something together with them and their parents is even better.

Quentin works with children who are labelled as ‘troublesome’ by adults who disparage and dismiss them. But ensuring these children believe in themselves gives them the hope that they can grow up and find their place in the world. Maybe when it comes to learning, believing you are capable is the most important thing.

When Quentin helps the children of the cultural centre see that they are capable, their relationships with others change. This helps to improve neighbourhood life, as fewer children are left isolated.

Please help Quentin and us continue our work by making a donation today.

Thank you, once again, for your generosity.

Bruno Dabout, Director General ATD Fourth World

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