Saturday, March 27, 2010

What are we teaching?

I generally try to keep quiet about politics. Nobody wins when it is discussed. I have my opinions, but I keep them to myself because I recognize what is right for me may not be right for others.

That being said, the experiences of the past days and weeks have really made me think. Not about politics, not about health care, not about racism or classism or any other "ism" (although I could go on about all of these things). But it did make me think about morality and what we are teaching, not just to our children but to everyone we meet.

There is so much hatred in the world that is absolutely toxic right now. It is pollution of the worst kind. It makes me truly want to sob and the absolutely hate-filled things coming from people I love. But I think that deep down all the anger and hatred is ultimately motivated by fear, just as it has been for thousands of years. We are afraid of what we do not know and have not experienced and cannot imagine. Or worse, we can imagine it and it isn't what we want for ourselves and our lives and it requires sacrifice. We don't like sacrifice. We don't like discomfort. Because, after all, isn't everything about making the world a better place for ME? (The correct answer to that question is a big, fat "NO!")

Fear is a natural human emotion. Everyone is scared. We are taught from birth to, at the very least, be cautious. And caution is good. And fear is even good. But we have to own that as our emotion. We have to name and claim that part of the human experience, rather than burying it and denying it and allowing it to explode all over everyone in a gross, angry, hate-filled mess. The process of naming and claiming fear is itself scary. But what if we were to simply confront that fear and slowly develop a space in the world that is not judgmental or critical of those experiences, but supportive of the one sharing that experience?

What kind of country and what kind of world would we live in if, rather than teaching children to pledge allegiance to a piece of cloth, we taught them to pledge allegiance to their fellow citizens of humanity. I'll even leave out the Christian bent of "loving your neighbor" and just pose this as a purely moral/ethical position.

What if we taught a deep conviction about caring for those whose lives impact ours? What if we modeled a lifestyle of showing dedication to those with whom we have no choice but to breathe the same air and drink the same water and walk the same streets? What would it be like to promise from an early age to ensure the basic rights of existence for everyone, including a promise that at times we must agree to disagree? What if we taught respect rather than simple obedience? And most importantly, what if we taught this all by example?

This is my goal - to model all of these things every day. I fail constantly, but I keep striving for it and moving a little closer each and every day. I still get hurt. I still get angry. I still get scared. All occasionally it takes me a while to be able to name them. But I am very blessed that, even if I never say it out loud to anyone else, I can name those emotions in my own life and experience. Others may not be able to do that just yet and require more support. But what would happen if this experience trickled down bit by bit?

We are all students of experience. We cannot help but be influenced by every person we encounter, either positively or negatively. But just as we are influenced, we also influence others. What if we also name and claim that responsibility? What if we are intentional about teaching the positive as opposed to simply worrying about what we learn and experience?

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