My daughter came home from school a few months ago and reported that a classmate’s mother “didn’t like her.”
“[Classmate] said his mom doesn’t like me,” she said. I remember he words exactly, along with the puzzling expression she carried.
“I’m sorry, Little One,” I said. “Not everyone has to like everyone, though.” I refrained from elaborating. As Laurel Thatcher Ulrich said, “Well-behaved women seldom make history.”
“It’s because I said that girls can marry girls and boys can marry boys,” she continued. “[Classmate] said they couldn’t, and I said, ‘Of COURSE they can.’”
That’s my girl.
“You’re totally right,” I told her. “But not everybody agrees with that, even though it’s right and it’s the law.”
“And the thing is,” I continued, “Not everyone has to agree with everything. Lots of people disagree about lots of different things. The trick, though, is to always be respectful and kind of different beliefs, even if they are different from yours. As long as you do that, you’ll be okay.”
I couldn’t help but recall that conversation when I heard the tragic news from Orlando last week. We were in Charleston at the time, watching the city prepare to commemorate the one-year anniversary of another tragedy motivated by hate and intolerance. And fear.
In a shop on Queen Street there, I snapped a picture of the store’s window display: “Replace fear of the unknown with curiosity.”
Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we didn’t fear people who disagree with us? Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we instead extended curiosity to know the human behind the beliefs, or the behavior, or the rhetoric? Wouldn’t it be great to distinguish between a fact and a belief? It is a fact that anyone can marry in this country. It is a fact that love is love. It is a belief that those laws are good. It is also a belief that those laws are not so good. But beliefs don’t change facts. And one person’s beliefs cannot and should not be imposed on anyone else.
Our children will learn about beliefs that challenge those we hold dear. Our children will learn that what we tell them to be true is true… But that “true” and “false” are sometimes oversimplifications.
Instead of responding with fear, I wish the classmate’s mother had responded differently. I wish she knew she was raising an incredible child, who wasn’t afraid to ask questions and open difficult conversations. I wish she wasn’t afraid to share with him that not everyone holds the beliefs she holds, instead of dismissing a challenger to those beliefs so callously.
There is empowerment in empathy and kindness. There is empowerment in curiosity.
We learn quickly that our children are their own people, that what we say and do holds tremendous weight, but that it will be up to them to evolve into the people they will become.
My father shares a story from my days as a toddler. Apparently, I loved moving a blue chair wherever I needed it to be. He would leave the living room and return to stumble into the chair I had left out. He would search for it exactly where he left it, only to discover I had moved it.
Our kids are their own people. They will manipulate their world, they will change it for the better, and they’ll learn to think of others—not leaving a chair in a pathway—as their brains develop in that direction.
But we have to help them get there. Not with fear, but instead with confidence in our own parenting abilities. We are incredible parents. It’s okay if our kids know the world is full of incredible parents who all only want the best for their kids. Even if other people’s version of “the best” differs from our own. Even if the world’s version of “the best” differs from our own.
It’s a good thing to raise a toddler who isn’t afraid to take action, even if that action is slightly inconvenient. It’s a good thing to raise a kindergartener who asks questions when he encounters something that doesn’t align with what he has been told. That’s a great thing. Let’s not diminish that greatness by letting our own fears squelch someone else’s curiosity.
I can’t help but wonder if things would be different if any of the shooters in any of these horrible tragedies were more curious and less afraid. If they were confident enough in themselves to not feel the need to eliminate anyone who disagreed with them. If they embraced the differences in our country and our world. If they understood that is exactly these differences that make our country great, rather than believing those differences take away from its greatness. If they were unable to access military-grade weaponry. If it took a little more time and a lot more effort to arm oneself.
If their parents had said, “Not everyone has to agree” instead of “I don’t like her.”