My husband and I moved to Maine for a job, but we stayed because we loved it here. One of the things we love about Maine is how it feels like such a safe, supportive place to raise our family and start our small family farm.
But I grew up north of Dallas and lived the first part of my adult life in the Dallas area, and I sometimes have worried that I might be sheltering my family too much. While I know racism exists in Maine, I don’t see it in a regular basis as I did where I grew up. While I can see on the news that there are protests throughout the country, they don’t affect my or my children’s every day lives.
We still collect the eggs from the chickens, make sure the animals are cared for, work on our homeschool, and plant in the garden. We don’t even have television, so we have to go to the internet to see what’s going on, and my youngest son isn’t allowed access to the internet.
So we are sheltered.
My oldest son and I have talked about many of the tragic events in the last few years, and, sometimes, he is much more in tune with the rest of the world than I am because he is so connected to the world online. But I have been able to shelter my youngest and not talk about what’s going on, about gun violence, racism, police violence, and more. It’s easier not to, but I have had the nag, the nag that I am making a mistake by not addressing some of these issues more head on with both of my children.
Then, the events of this last week happened, and, as a parent, I am slowly beginning to realize and be terrified that the racial tensions are not going to get better and that the violence is not going to stop—unless we make some big changes as a culture. These changes have to start with us not seeing the world in black and white.
Sometimes, as a mom, my degree in Rhetoric and my background as a professor comes in handy. I think a discussion about these issues is one of those times.
The issue of people thinking they have the answers, know the truth, and devalue the truths of others goes back thousands of years, and the Greeks wrote about it. Essentially, when people see the world too simply, when they can’t see the nuances and the exceptions, dangerous things often happen.
It’s like, right now, too many people assume that if you support the Black Lives Matter movement that you must be against police officers or if you support police officers that you somehow condone police brutality and killings. Things are not so simple, and photographs taken before the sniper shooting in Dallas exemplify this. There are images of Dallas police officers standing side-by-side, arm-in-arm with peaceful Black Lives Matter protestors.
Finding out that the sniper in the Dallas police shooting was a member of our armed forces who had served in Afghanistan complicates the issue even more, doesn’t it? Doesn’t it seem clear that this issue is complex?
It’s been thousands of years since a group of rhetoricians, the Sophists, warned us about simplistic thinking. So, even though it’s hard, I’m going to have to talk to my children about these issues because I really need my children to grow up and, at the very least, not cause harm in the world and not add to any hateful or over-simplified thinking. This is what I’m going to tell them:
- Police officers really are the “good guys.”
My youngest son has heard just enough about the police killings to tell me that he was afraid of the police. This broke my heart because my father was a police officer. My father told me stories of the good and the bad—but, mostly, there was the good. I did talk to my son about how most police officers are here to help us, but I know need to do more. The issue is complex, and it’s not going to be easy. But my son is about to learn at a very early age that the world is complicated, at least he’s about to be introduced to the idea.
- But police officers shouldn’t be judge and jury.
It doesn’t matter what crime a person commits or has committed, it’s up to police officers to bring a person into custody safely if at all possible, to let that person have a fair trial and due process. I believe most of them know this and live by this, but we’ve seen exceptions. It’s not my place or anyone else’s place to decide that a person who has committed a crime deserves to die. I have seen some make comments on social media that some of the men who have been shot and killed by police in the last few years deserved it because they had criminal backgrounds. I don’t want my children thinking that’s an OK way to think. In fact, one of the questions my youngest son asked me when he let me know he was afraid of the police was “What if I’m really innocent but they think I did something bad?”
- We have to learn to see different sides of the issues, to see other perspectives.
The Sophists taught that seeing many sides of an issue was the best way to come to knowledge. This encouraged social tolerance. Here, again, my background as a professor is going to help me as a mom. I think this history needs to be taught more. I think it would help us.
- We have to recognize all the good as well—and make sure we do the good.
It’s easy, with all that’s going on, to focus on the negative. Things feel scary to me right now, even here in Maine where I feel isolated—protected.
But it’s important to teach about the good—and the good we can do. To me, teaching about the good in the world as well is a good way to teach that human beings are a complex animal and that things are never black and white. There are always shades of gray.
I do think we need to take a look at our history as human beings as we look for ways to heal our country right now. This is what I’m going to try to teach my sons. It’s what works for me as a mom. What works for you?