Greetings my treasured Marshmallow Peeps!
What a summer it has been. A whirlwind. So much so, I really don’t know where to begin, but begin I must. First off, I wish I could say that this summer has been all sunshine, lollipops and rainbows, but instead it has been an emotionally complex summer to say the least. Time and again, my eyes were drawn to headlines highlighting awful policies being implemented by this current administration, most egregiously where children are used as pawns in a political game. This has weighed heavily on my conscience. I read articles describing the experiences of the children who have actually been successfully reunited with their families and I cringe at the damage done to these young lives, let alone those who aren’t being written about, or those who may never be reunited with their families. The damage is being shouldered by the most vulnerable in our midst. It was Mahatma Ghandi who said, “A nation’s greatness is measured by how it treats its weakest members.” With this in mind, it seems quite apparent that these awful actions are, in part, the product of bigotry, fear and lack of empathy.
Throughout history we see these patterns play out on the global scale as well as locally. The fear and the dehumanization of the “other” has given us some of humanity’s darkest chapters. So, how do we help prevent the next atrocity? Let’s start with empathy. Let’s make sure that we raise our children not to fear what is different, but to try to understand or imagine a perspective outside of our own experience. This is, of course, very difficult. But, there are ways to have kids use their natural curiosity to explore unfamiliar views.
Case in point, this past year, my daughter was studying the history of California in her 4th grade class, concentrating on the Mission period and the Gold Rush. While she was out sick from school, she was talking to me about Father Junípero Serra, a Spanish priest from Majorca who founded of the first Catholic mission in Baja California as well as the first nine Spanish missions in California. The books her class read had painted Father Serra in a rather rosy positive light (I admit, while listening to my daughter tell me about Father Serra’s good deeds, I was rather triggered). I think at one point while she was telling me a particular story of Father Serra and the “novices” (converted Native Americans), I was visibly scowling and I made an audible grunt of dismay. My daughter stopped talking and asked me what was wrong. I told her that though Father Serra’s intentions may have been good (which is debatable…) we should also take into account some unintended consequences of Spanish colonization as well as what it must have been like to be a Native American and be made to adopt a new way of life by the colonizing forces. I didn’t go into a lot of detail, as Junípero Serra’s history has many dark and violent points, but just getting my daughter to think about what it must have been like to be a converted Native American was important.
These teaching moments present themselves all the time, whether it is looking at a sibling’s perspective rather than your own, or taking into account multiple arguments before a decision is made. In our house, it seems that we are all asked to consider alternative viewpoints on a daily basis, to admittedly varied results (but we are trying!). However, this latest episode in which families are being separated at the border and children are interned is something that was very difficult for our family to process emotionally.
To help my daughter feel empowered and to show her how to begin to take action, we, as a family, participated in our local “Keep Families Together” march on June 30th. While I was relaying the events of the march to one of our contributing writers here at ETM, I came to say something to the effect of, “I’m not sure the march made much of a difference, but it was, at very least, heartening to see so many people out there protesting an injustice together.” Our contributor turned and said to me, “To physically manifest an emotion or an idea is a powerful thing. Just by the nature of putting some concrete energy into a cause creates a change, begins to shift things. The big change that you are looking for may not happen quickly, but you do create change by putting the energy physically out there.” Indeed.
As individuals, there is quite a lot we can do, on many different fronts. We can march together in protest of cruelty. We can call our public servants who are supposed to represent ALL of us to act in defense of the vulnerable. We can volunteer and give to agencies helping to reunify the families. And, most importantly, we can talk to our own children about what is happening and in turn, help the generation we are raising to be better people. Empathetic people never forget to see the humanity in others, never lack in the ability to imagine things from an alternative perspective.
Here at ETM, we really do care and we hope you do too. Be Kind.