(This is part 3 of a mini-series/long essay I’m doing on Codename Kids Next Door. You can find the 2nd part here.)
I finished my last post by touching on the importance of freedom–a value that, as expressed by Codename: Kids Next Door’s story, is seen even in childhood–but the freedom to do something is practically moot without the determination to actually do it. Fortunately, KND’s heroes aren’t afraid to put themselves out there, evoking courage as another virtue that can be fostered in childhood. Fueled by the same innate curiosity that lies within every child, they want to better understand the world around them, and they do so by plunging right into it, freely exploring and adventuring. An average day for these kids can involve solving dangerous puzzles within a mountain temple housing an ancient, long-lost flavor of ice cream or navigating through an ancient underground school to find the Fountain of Youth.
Obviously this kind of living is risky business. It involves constantly wading through the unknown, well beyond typical comfort zones, to find something that could be good, bad, or both. Despite the risks and dangers, these kids continue to boldly do what no kid has done before, especially for the sake of others.
KND operatives don’t just have the courage to freely explore, they have the courage to fight back against bullies seeking to suppress freedom. They go to great lengths to protect other kids. When Numbuh 3 literally gets spirited away by the ghost of a dead hamster, Sector V battles a vengeful legion of ghost hamsters to get her back (makes me glad I never owned a hamster). Their courage even stretches them beyond personal limits. After Numbuh 4 learns that his friends are trapped in a parallel dimension, he leaps through the portal, located deep inside a public pool, in order to get them back, even though he can’t swim.
KND shows that having courage leads to growth, tapping into latent potential regardless of age. It also shows that having courage involves looking beyond both yourself and the obstacle(s) in front of you towards the good that’s to come, giving you a reason to press on. In other words: courage is directed by hope.
KND operatives believe that, despite how things are, things will get better for kids. They fight not only to keep that hope alive but to make it a reality, creating a world in which childhood thrives. It motivates and shapes their actions. It’s not unlike me as a kid whenever Christmas rolled around. I hoped Santa would give me a great present that year, so I tried extra-hard to be on my best behavior, conscious of my every action and how it could affect my naughty/nice status. Hope is the embodiment of the KND worldview, granting a vision of how things will be should they continue to live by it.
Hope comes from a variety of unlikely sources on this show, and each time kids cling to it and never let go, usually taking radical measures to do so. Hope can come from the past. In yet another post-apocalyptic-esque scenario (don’t ask me why a show about kids has so many of these), the ragtag Boys Next Door is the last line of defense against Madam Margaret and her army of malicious girls, dead set on eliminating all boys, but Sally, a girl inspired by old stories of how boy and girls used to be on the same side, betrays Margaret to join the boys, believing both genders can get along again. Hope can come from a phrase. In one mission, Numbuh 5 infiltrates a clothing store that sells horrible Back-to-School clothes and stumbles upon a tribe of unfortunate kids poorly dressed by their fashion-challenged parents. She has to get them out of there before the entrance of the store is sealed off forever, but they stubbornly refuse by reciting their creed over and over: “Good clothes come to those who wait.” Hope can even be stumbled upon. Going back to the beginning of the film Operation Z.E.R.O, Monty, fed up with his father’s tyrannical rule over all kids, runs off and discovers the legendary Book of KND, which provides him the instructions and tools needed to fight back against his father and make the world a better place.
At the risk of sounding schmaltzy, hope is a powerful thing. Lives are fashioned around it, and there’s no telling the limits to a courageous life dedicated to a cause. Grandfather, one of the KND’s most powerful foes, openly admits that hope, “the kind of hope that only snot-nosed kids are stupid enough to believe in,” is the only thing more powerful than him. There are plenty of things a kid could hope for, like the cafeteria serving pizza at lunch or not getting picked last at dodgeball, but the Kids Next Door clings to a bigger hope. It’s the kind of hope that thinks about the bigger picture and every kid’s place within the frame. It’s so radical that it’s capable of pitting father against son, all for the sake of a better tomorrow with everyone. In order to keep this bold kind of hope, these kids have to live beyond themselves everyday, always considering those around them and their cause.
This way of thinking and living is impactful, but it’s practically impossible to maintain on your own. Fortunately, as seen on Kids Next Door, it’s not something that should ever be–nor can it be–done alone, not when you accept the fact that the world doesn’t end with you.
(Next time I’ll be rounding out my talk of virtues that stem from childhood by talking about two more that are especially powerful: Selflessness and Friendship)