I am starting a little series that will be posted in random sections of the blog that highlights some narratives that I think should be on suggested reading lists for school children. And number one on that list is Kishimoto Masashi’s Naruto. That is not to say Naruto is a kid’s story. It’s an amazing story for all ages. I still read it even though it has ended. I was lost for a few days when the series ended late last year. I’m just saying there are a lot of good messages in the book for children.
First and foremost Naruto is a damn good narrative so if you want kids to read then don’t shove boring ass shit that they don’t enjoy or relate to down their throats. If it is good then they will read it. And now that the obvious point is out of the way, let us proceed to the heart of the matter.
Now, secondly, the story of Naruto has all of the qualities that you want to pass on to the next generation of humanity. As a matter of fact, nurturing and facilitating the development of future generations is a central theme in Naruto. That along with numerous other positive themes is one of the things that makes Naruto a thought provoking story.
Naruto himself starts off as an outcast and a nothing but through grit, determination and belief in himself and those around him he becomes the great hero of the Hidden Leaf and achieves his goal of becoming Hokage. He grew up an orphan who was looked down upon by society and chose not to let his situation define him as a person. He was given only one inborn talent. He has more chakra (energy) than most other ninjas. Yes, most of those ridiculous chakra stores were from the Nine-tails Demon Fox but as a member of the Uzumaki clan he was born with greater chakra than most to begin with. That’s why Uzumaki women were chosen to become vessels for the nine-tails. Think about that though and the lesson it teaches. His only talent was energy. Energy for what? So that he could work hard. Originally he had no talent for learning jutsu and no talent for forming chakra but he studied and practiced until he mastered and perfected a jutsu (Rasen Shuriken) that requires extremely high command of the very thing he was worst at. The same thing goes for making true shadow clones. He studied and studied, practiced and practiced, until the thing of which he couldn’t do the simplest version of was converted into his trademark jutsu. Not to mention he learned the most complicated, albeit forbidden, version of the technique. Instead of just making regular clones, he was able to form real copies of himself.
And it wasn’t just in his studies. He maintained that stubborn, never give up attitude in everything he did. He held fast to his beliefs. He held fast to his values. He held fast to his Nindou. He was unrelenting in his love for his best friend and rival, Sasuke, and he kept his word no matter the course it might lead him on. Naruto was a model of perseverance and an ode to the value of hard work.
However Naruto is not so matte a story. It’s story arcs and characters are dynamic and thoughtful, providing a well balanced approach to poignant themes. So, Yes. While it is true that hard work is a good virtue, it is in itself not the end all be all for success. Most adults will readily attest to this point. And Kishimoto does the same thing in Naruto. While Naruto, Rock Lee, Guy Sensei and Hinata train incessantly to improve themselves, characters like Sasuke, Kakashi Sensei, Neiji and Itachi are just naturally gifted. And guess what? In what is most often true life fashion the naturally talented genius still tends to prevail. Life isn’t fair. Some people are just born with advantages. And although Naruto, Lee, Guy and Hinata often lose to their more talented rivals they never gave up trying to improve themselves. There will always be someone out there better, someone with an unfair advantage but it is up to you, who knows your limitations to do the best you can to improve yourself and try to surpass those limitations. In the end that is all you can do. None of that everybody gets a trophy stuff. Real life lessons over here.
Beyond hard work and ideas of fair and unfair there is another theme that children of this generation need to learn if the problems of tomorrow are to ever be solved. This world lacks understanding. It lacks behavior based on empathy. Jiraya puts it best. There is just too much hatred in the world. And people seem unable to empathize with one another and understand each other’s point of view. I am definitely no pacifist and think there are plenty of times when you may have to physically stand up for yourself and what you believe in but people have a nasty habit of carrying that sentiment to far, allowing themselves to act out of hatred, bigotry, intolerance and often times simple stupidity without ever contemplating the idea that the person with the opposing point of view is also a human being with ideas and feelings that they assert are just as valid.
The Pein Arc deals with such ideas in a very real and nuanced manner. I love all of the Naruto story arcs but the Pein Arc is my favorite. It has a ton of quotables that would work better as life pertinent quotes than most of the quotes from the supposed great thinkers lining the boards of moody pinners and tumbleweeds. (Sorry for the rant.) Point is, it is a very thoughtful arc about the nature of human relations. It touches on hatred and forgiveness. It explores the line between understanding of others while standing firm to your own principles as well. Furthermore it delves into the nuance of sharing common goals and ideals while differing on the subsequent actions one should take to attain them. This is not to mention that the Pein story itself would also make a wonderful read for a political science course.
The conversation during the epic battle between Naruto and Pein explains it better than I can here. This is from chapter 436 entitled “Peace”.
I’m obviously not advocating teaching kids that people can only reach peace through violence. Read through to the end of this arc and indeed to the end of the manga you will see that Naruto realizes this as well. To prove that he is the person that can overcome such hate he allows Pein to live even though he admittedly still wants to get revenge. Pein seeing that Naruto truly has the capacity to stand by his own principles decides to use his abilities to return things to the they were before he destroyed Naruto’s village. This arc is all about empathy. This arc is about understanding that your goals, principles and ideals may be the cause of pain to others. Your success may at times necessarily be to the detriment of others. All you have in human relationships is empathy. Without that there can be no meaning to any human interaction.
Another thing that kids can learn from Naruto is loyalty in friendship. Loyalty is something that goes with empathy. You might not think about it but it does. It’s easy to be a loyal friend when your friend is doing well and never has a problem but what about those times when a friend falls of track, makes a mistake, or just says the wrong thing because they are having a shitty day. With empathy you can understand when someone is having a rough go of it. If you know your friend is a good homie then you forgive and continue being homies. When a homie needs help then you help a homie. Sometimes that may put you at odds with your homie but “One is not just simply a homie.” “One must seek good ‘homieship'”.
And what about bullying? Bullying is one of those hot button issues that ever suddenly now seems to want to resolve. I’m not the biggest proponent in changing childhood even more that it has been changed already for kids in this generation. Kids are kids and guess what? They can be mean and thoughtless. That is part of growing up. We can’t be mad at them for being children. Also, we don’t give children the opportunity to learn how to overcome things like bullying by stepping in as adults before they get the chance to develop their own solutions. Sorry if I don’t share that “we have to work to make sure no child ever feels bullied” mentality but I think we should work at building children who have the capacity to deal with issues in life. Having said that I will also readily admit that children today are far more severe in their bullying. So, I accept that there are many cases that require adult guidance and intervention. I’m not a monster. Whichever way you see it though Naruto is a great model. He shows kids how to deal with being bullied. He displays the courage to also help other kids that are being bullied. That’s one of the reason’s that Hinata started stalking him at like age 4. LOL. His ordeal also shows kids who bully that the weird kid might be different for a reason. That child might be dealing with immense issues in their young live. Once again; empathy.
I’ll stop after this part but one of the things that kids will have to learn today is there are no excuses. The kids I worked with at the school at which I taught had it bad. There home situations, learning disabilities and various other disadvantages make it easy for them to give up on their potential. Many of them couldn’t even grasp the concept of their potential. And the labels that are thrown upon them by the school system are ridiculous. So many people quit on them that they never ever learn to believe anyone is ever rooting for them. That’s exactly why Naruto was so relatable to them when I read it with them. Naruto was exactly the same in the beginning. But he made no excuses. Naruto was labeled with every derogatory sobriquet in the ninja world. He was called a demon with no talent, no parents and no intelligence. Not too many labels could be worse than all that. They basically called the kid an orphaned, demon, retard. But he fought through his disadvantages instead of blaming those around him. He never shut himself off in a cocoon of self consciousness. He lived his life with his heart on his sleeve in earnest and that eventually won people over becoming the hero of the entire ninja world. Another secret for the kids to learn. Live life as you deem fit so long as you are willing to accept the consequences. Live that life unabashedly and so long as you attain some measure of success people won’t give your meager origins or mistakes a second thought. Taking ownership of your existence and living it for your own reasons is probably more of a life lesson for adults when I think about it.
For real though. Teachers need to read this shit too. The early chapters of Naruto are extremely relatable to lives of the kids that many teachers will be working with. I know. I was a teacher at a school for a while. These kids have all the reasons imaginable to think no one cares, that they are stupid and they don’t have a chance. But teachers need to be like Sandaime, Jiraya and Iruka Sensei. They need to realize that they are kids. They don’t even know why they act out but if you as a teacher can just empathize a little then you can easily understand.
Naruto for teacher of the Year!!!