by Jennifer Mills-Knutsen
Last week, a troubled man felt that the world had gone so awry that the righteous course of action was the slaughter of 49 LGBTQ people at a nightclub. One year ago this week, another troubled man felt such deep hatred for African Americans that he entered a church during Bible Study to kill them while they prayed. Yesterday, another troubled man in Britain killed a member of Parliament because she disagreed with him about the upcoming Brexit vote. And those are just a few of the acts of senseless violence we’ve seen on television in the last 24 hours.
How does this happen? How does hatred build up to the point of desperation and violence? How do we stop it? How do we explain it to our children? How do we protect them? How do I make sure my son doesn’t grow up to be so filled with hate and desperation as to turn to mass slaughter to give his life meaning?
I do not know the actions and parenting choices of any of those mass shooters, so this is not a judgment about their culpability, action, or inaction. This is a place where I stand, trying to raise a child in the midst of this kind of explosive, individualized violence.
I have to believe that my action as a parent is the first step toward building a world without such carnage. I have to embrace the reality that it starts here, with me and my house. It doesn’t start with hate-filled, gun-fueled rages. It starts with lack of kindness, lack of hope, lack of compassion. There are very real actions we can take, wherever we are, to impact our corner of the world and to make sure we teach kindness, hope and compassion.
- It starts here, when we see news of people suffering the effects of violence, and we learn empathy and weep with those who weep.
- It starts here, when we discuss racism, sexism, homophobia and prejudice openly in our home. We learn about the obstacles and hatred experienced by our neighbors, so we can recognize prejudice in others and in ourselves. We teach courage in standing up for what is right, for ourselves and for others.
- It starts here, when we firmly refuse humor, insults, banter and commentary based in stereotypes based on a person’s race, religion, gender, sexual orientation, or other category, because we explain how those stereotypes keep us from seeing one another as fully human. We don’t call each other “faggot” or “retarded” or “fattie” any other disparaging term, and we don’t laugh with those who do.
- It starts here, when we name bullying behavior wherever we see it—on the playground, in the classroom, on the television, from the mouths of politicians or talk show hosts. We refuse to explain it away as funny or harmless, but call it out as bullying behavior.
- It starts here, when we seek to build relationships with people as diverse as our nation, so that our children see and know that friends come in all shapes, sizes, colors, religions and kinds of families.
- It starts here, when we look at this broken, violent world and still see God’s redemption at work. If God can redeem the horrific violence of the cross, God can still plant hope in the midst of the mess we find ourselves in today. God can still find a future beyond despair.
This is just a short list. What would you add to it? How are you raising your children to know kindness, compassion and hope?