Early this spring my son and I spotted the first of many peace, love, and happiness graffiti paintings we would see in the city this summer. You have probably seen them too. They are on bridges and overpasses, on old train cars; all of the usual places you would find graffiti. I loved them so much I used peace, love and happiness as my name here on the blog.
I am usually fairly opposed to the idea of graffiti. I try to teach the ideal of respecting other people’s property and the practicality of using paint only on paper or other approved surfaces so my house and furniture is not covered in Crayola water paints. I don’t care how washable they are, they do not belong on the side of the couch! In this particular case of graffiti though, I was far from offended; I was inspired. We had a great conversation about peace, love and happiness; about how our world is rich in these qualities but could always use a reminder to focus on them more. Every time we spotted another peace, love, and happiness symbol we remembered to be kind to others and to appreciate the wonderful things we have in our lives. It turned into a great summer-long scavenger hunt.
I have always believed that people are basically good; that most of us strive for peace, love and happiness. Surely, the paths we take toward those goals have a multitude of appearances. Some paths have a more obvious outward appearance of goodness than others. Despite those outward differences, I’ve always believed that deep down inside we are all more similar than we are different and we are all striving for a better world for ourselves and for our fellow citizens. I’ve tried to teach those qualities of basic goodness and tolerance to my son.
The recent election results have shaken my beliefs to their very core. I am a pretty conflict avoidant person (peace, love, and happiness right?) so I was hesitant to address this here. I don’t want to offend anyone, but I really feel like this needs to be said. How nearly half of our nation’s voters could cast their ballot in favor of hate and intolerance is beyond my comprehension. I have been forced to confront the very real possibility that my rose colored glasses are just that. Perhaps the world is not as kind and generous a place as I thought it was. Perhaps a large part of our country is so angry and self-centered that they are not basically good deep down. Perhaps they are so filled with hate that they truly are striving to make the world a better place only for themselves and not for their fellow citizens. If this nation can enthusiastically elect a man who brags about bullying others, who laughs about violating women’s bodies, who threatens entire religious and ethnic groups with exclusion from our society and who has no qualms about lying to anyone about anything to get what he wants; what are we to tell our children?
Those of us who have chosen to homeschool our children have taken on more than just the responsibility to teach them the academics they need to know to succeed in this world. We have also taken on more than the average parent’s share of the responsibility to teach them the values and morals they will need to succeed in this world.
I have always tried to teach my son to be kind to others and to be considerate of the needs of those around him. I think those are important qualities for most of us to have in a civilized society. Now I am doubting if those qualities are going to serve him well. In a world filled with bullies who have been emboldened by the mass cultural embrace of our president-elect, how far will kindness get him? Perhaps I should work harder at teaching him to make sure he gets the first spot in line even if he has to push others out of the way to get there. I’m fairly certain that is what the children in the homes of the adults who elected this man are teaching their children.
I have always tried to teach my son that hard work and education are important keys to success in this world. The blue collar work ethic of Pittsburgh was drilled into to me as a child and became a strong part of my core set of beliefs. If you are willing to work hard and learn, you will be successful. Again, I am doubting now if those qualities are as important as I thought. If the candidate who has spent her life preparing for this position, who on paper was the most qualified candidate for president in decades, was defeated by someone who knows no more about foreign policy or about the way our government works than my five year old son does; perhaps being prepared and working hard is not as important as I thought. Our children are watching. I can see the wheels turning in son’s head as he thinks, “Perhaps bravado and making things up as you go along is the way to go. It is certainly an easier path. Why work hard if you can just lie your way to the top?”
I have always tried to teach my son to include others and to embrace differences. I’m sure you have all been to pre-school playtime and seen the exclusion of one child or another. As mothers, I think most of us try to limit that type of unkindness and encourage our kids to explore the idea of including those who have different ideas and interests in their game if they want to play. This is the foundation of the social skills they will need to work with groups of people, personally and professionally, for the rest of their lives. What are we to tell our children, when the leader of our country feels free to discriminate and threaten people based on their race, nationality and religion? Is it acceptable for exclusion to occur on that level, but not on a more personal level on the playground? How do you explain that to a five year old?
I could continue, but frankly the whole topic is depressing me so I will stop here. My coping strategy so far has been to tune out – the TV is off; I am not reading the news; I have been staying at home a lot and Facebook is sending me increasingly frantic messages about how many urgently important things have happened in my account since I last logged in. I know burying my head in the sand is not a viable long term solution to this problem, but it is the best self-preservation method I have been able to come up with. So what are we to tell our children for the next four years? How are we to negotiate this hostile new world in which we live? ~P.L.H.