As parents, how do we talk to our children about this fractured moment in our political life? What wisdom will they cling to as the blustering winds of accusation and propaganda swirl in their sails? Chaotic times provide teaching moments when we can learn the lesson of becoming more fully human. The realization that everything can become your teacher guards us from unwittingly becoming victims of our own outrage. The following letter expresses my intention to live with integrity amid our collective emotional and political intensity.
To my daughters,
Perhaps a parent is too quick to thrust unsolicited advice upon his children, so in these days of red-hot rhetoric, I will simply share with you what I am trying to cultivate in my own heart. Perhaps overhearing a father’s encouragement to himself will be useful to you in this or some future moment of confusion.
In our divided times, there are many prophets of doom eager to fan the flames of your fear. They will try to convince you to join their tribe with a promise of security. They will feed your anger and entice you with safety from the threats of enemies. Their invitation may, for a moment, comfort your anxious heart and relieve a worried mind. Be aware of the temptation to fear uncertainty so much that you rush to seek solutions before fully understanding our problems. False certainty is lead weight posing as a life raft.
No matter how clever, slogans will not heal our country and political parties will not calm our restlessness. Outer change in our world relies upon inner change in our hearts. Otherwise, we risk replicating the same cycles of greed, judgment, and oppression under the banner of our cause, movement or political party.
Keep your heart soft, for cynicism is infectious and paranoia addictive. Be aware of your habit to assume the worst intentions of those with whom you disagree while elevating your own. Within all of us is the evolutionary drive to seek sameness and to fight difference. Hold this tendency in careful awareness and seek humility as a balm for your own arrogance. After all, no single person or group holds a monopoly on the truth. Each of us contains a small piece of it, and therefore all of us are needed to discover the truth in its fullness.
Seek justice with every cell of your being, but do not let your yearning for justice embitter your spirit. The most potent poison is the hardened heart and the judgmental mind. Learn to tame the flood of anger into a river of compassion. From time to time, a strident voice may obscure the inner whispering of wisdom. May a spirit of gentle humility admit your inevitable failings and imperfections. Let righteous anger and loving-kindness be the two wings that allow you to soar.
Listen more than you speak, and speak only to the degree that you act with compassion. May you be known for the depth of your attention and the quality of your presence. Remember that light and dark are constant companions, and so the potential for love and hatred are both alive within you.
Occasionally, you will forget the values that you most treasure. Do not be overwhelmed by disappointment in yourself, for most of us need to lose ourselves before finding ourselves. In these moments, let humor heal your heart. Life is serious business, but never so serious that laughter is not possible. Silliness is a sign of sacredness. And as Thomas Merton said, “Either everything is sacred or nothing is.”
Seek to be curious and to learn more than you teach. You will teach far more by living an authentic life than by speaking too much about things you know too little about. Keeping the heart soft and open is why we sit silently on a meditation cushion. Waking up is steadfast work. Wherever your journey takes you, I encourage you to drink deeply from the limitless wellspring of courage and love that lives within you. Some call this God or Spirit or their higher power. The words we use to describe this reality matter less than knowing that this reservoir is always available to you.
There are easier and less lonely roads to travel so each day you must choose what you give your heart to. These choices will determine the person you become. It remains an honor and privilege to witness you becoming you. I look forward to sharing this wonderful and strange journey with you.
With more love and gratitude than I can express,
I’m not sure how my children will absorb these words on the eve of their adolescence. I trust that when they find themselves at the midpoint of their lives, as I am today, they might stumble upon this letter and glimpse the convictions that I seek to embody, however imperfectly. Perhaps someday, they too will write their own letter as they attempt to live with integrity in a confounding moment in history.