Differences are not intended to separate, to alienate. We are different precisely in order to realize our need of one another. ~ Desmond Tutu
I don’t generally write posts in a back to back fashion but the events of the last week spurred something in me and for the parent, husband, friend and writer in me, I have a few words to say.
Here’s the thing. I have consciously raised my children to be more than ‘tolerant’ of other’s differences. To me, to be tolerant is to accept someone else’s flaws and love them anyway. For example, my wife is a fan of the Denver Broncos. Sure, its unbecoming but I tolerate it because I love the rest of her. I think that saying you are tolerant of someone’s gender, or race, or orientation or anything else that makes them different than yourself is saying that you love them despite being a woman or gay or black. It shouldn’t be ‘despite’ it should be ‘and’. I love you AND you’re gay. I love you AND you’re Jewish. I love you DESPITE you being a Bronco fan. See?
Up until this week I thought I had done a good job I this regard. On some level I have, but it just isn’t enough.
I can give examples for each of my kids and how they deal with people different than them. My eldest had an African American friend in grade school (still does, but that’s not the point). We wanted to invite her to a birthday party, but Avery didn’t know her last name. We had her describe her. “Curly hair, tall, brown eyes, really nice”. Tons of descriptors, just not the color of her skin. In talking to her about it, we found that she didn’t use that as a descriptor because she simply didn’t notice. She knew she was black, she just didn’t think of it as something different. The girls go to school with kids from every walk of life. When I hear their names I generally can guess about where their families stem from. The kids just don’t care. Frankly, the only time we hear any of the kids talking about someone’s nationality in any capacity is the “Immigrant Program” where the kids dress up in their heritage's traditional garb. Side note, all three of my kids chose their mother’s German side completely ignoring my way more fun Irish side.
In a previous post I talked about my youngest realizing that my next-door neighbors were a lesbian couple. Her question about it was not about their relationship or the fact that they were both girls. It was whether or not their dogs are allowed to get married. From the mouths of babes.
My kids are fine. They simply judge people for how they make them feel.
Here’s the rub. It’s not okay just to fail to notice our differences anymore. I recently read a book featuring Desmond Tutu and the Dalai Lama. I was moved by the simplicity of their thoughts. Tutu said,
“To be neutral in a situation of injustice is to have chosen sides already. It is to support the status quo.”
And that’s it. Too much sitting on the sidelines for most of us. Too much for me, anyway. I’ve watched my mother and my wife and my sister protest. I’ve seen my aunt write and call her senator. My sister actively campaigned for several candidates she supported. None of that may seem like a lot, but they’ve done something. They were moved enough for change to go out and try to extract it themselves. I need to show my daughters that I can do more as well.
I haven’t fleshed it out yet. Truth be told, the images of protesters being tear gassed in D.C. are still all jumbly in my stomach. If the last week has made me feel naïve about the world, the situation in our nation's capital made me angry. I'm open to suggestions.
I’m sure I will return to this subject over and over in my mind. I need to talk to my kids about this week, so that by itself will keep it fresh in my mind for the time being. Normally, I end these things with a lesson for the girlies. Today I’ll close with another quote, this time from the Dalai Lama,
"The challenge today is to convince people of the value of truth, honesty, compassion and a concern for others."I'll leave it at this. If you need it, my phone, my house, my shoulder are all safe places. If you're in need of a friend, you've got one. As a 5'10" slightly pudgy, slightly balding white guy I cannot speak to your experience, but I can offer you a beer or a joke or an ear.