Over these last days, I have been wondering how I would be able to explain the terrorism in Charlottesville, Virginia, to my children had they been younger. By junior high, my kids were following the issues and had definite ideas of their own.
That said, an even bigger parenting challenge would be how to tackle the startling words and erratic behavior of the president, who has used language that might lead one to think he was blaming the victims or suggesting that there were two sides to a story about fascism, racism, and hate. My advice to my own children might be as follows:
First, it is important to explain to children that while we may not agree with the president, we want to honor the office of the presidency.
Second, you need to share that we don’t hate because of the way a person was born or the way they look or sound. We don’t hate or speak with hateful narratives regarding people for their skin color, their religion or their gender or sexuality. Hate like that is not what we are about as Americans. We are a country that stands for freedom for all.
Third, since children are our “mini-me’s” be sure they reflect your values: that when we express our differences, we do so with honor and respect for others.
While we wish to understand other people’s views, some fundamental premises are unacceptable. There is no option to justify the acts of terrorism as we saw in Charlottesville. There is no shared responsibility for acts of hate.
These recent events and their amplification by the poor communication choices by the president are completely outside of the norm. Despite the verbal landmines of our leadership, we all must continue to move forward in our work.
While the president’s acting out continues not to surprise, it still is disappointing. Another lesson to children: just like walking away from the playground bully, we too don’t have to engage with people like the president because of his indefensible acts and messages.
We acknowledge that prejudice and hate are never acceptable, especially from a leader.
The president’s choices are his, not ours, nor are they those of the vast majority of the people who endorsed or voted for him. He, himself, just like all of us, is responsible for his words.
As parents it’s important to be truthful yet positive; we can be good leaders in our own lives, demonstrate understanding, even love, for our fellow citizens, no matter what.
We all can be leaders that seek peace. Children especially need to understand they have a role in creating a peaceful future.
We can continue to contribute to others in a way that makes their lives better; good work does not have to stop, but rather we can use this situation of unrest and confusion as an opportunity to become more engaged in positive contributions to our fellow citizens.
When we do our public-minded work, no matter what cause, the strength of the good work rises to the surface.
One thing I told my children in 2004 when I started and would say again today, is that my work to protect the public’s health is for everyone – not Less Cancer for some, but rather Less Cancer for all. That includes everyone – those whom I consider good or bad or anything in between. When we work to care for all, we work for peace.