To me, it feels like the world is throwing a huge high-stakes temper tantrum turned into schoolyard brawl. No, noone I know has shot anyone--yet--but apparently it’s only a matter of time. We are posting mean things about each other’s ideas, each other’s fears, and each other’s priorities and passions and griefs. We are watching human tragedy unfold and our response is name calling and blaming and casting around anger and scorn and despair. I don’t like it. It’s inappropriate and injurious, and it’s beneath us. If you are doing this, I am heart-broken at your behavior. But here’s the thing: I have claimed you as my own. I love you. I love you even if you are being mean to the other kids, but I also don’t want to let that go on. I believe you can do better, and I show you less love by letting you be a little jerk because that’s just who you are. You don’t need to be the mean kid. Eventually, a world filled with people who behave meanly in small ways fuels the fire that consumes us in large ways. I want to make this world a better place, and the only way I know how is to be a mother.
I want to do this: I want to be the mother for a little while. I want to pull the world into a huge, restraining hug. I want to let the world scream into my stomach and smear snot and tears on my shoulder and even punch me and struggle against my embrace until it gets tired, until it begins to settle down. Then I want to send the world to its room--not as punishment but because I think some of us have not yet learned how to be civil in the presence of someone with whom we do not agree. Name calling isn’t the answer in elementary school, and it isn’t now. Shoving and punching were not the answer then, and they aren’t now. Sometimes the best course of action is to, metaphorically, take a time out. Even for adults, that might mean stepping away from the social media for a little while. If something makes you gloat, if it feels like it’s going to really smack down your “enemies,” leave it alone until you can consider that maybe the schoolyard is full of other kids, not enemies. Maybe smacking is the precursor to things more violent. Maybe “they” are a part of “us.”
But a time-out is temporary. If we all walk away and sit in our rooms forever, that doesn’t solve the world’s problems. When the world is ready to discuss rationally, as the world’s mom, I want to sit down and discuss what is a helpful way of talking to others. How should you deal with people who want to draw rainbows when you want to draw trucks? How should you deal with the girl who always insists upon being line leader even though she was line leader every day this week? What might be happening in her life to make that so important to her? Can you let her? Can you? How do you deal with the kid who, when he loses at soccer, body checks his opponent when contact could have been avoided? How do you deal with the kid who won and is rubbing it in? How should you deal with someone who rides a bike on the trail when you want to run on it or vice versa? How can you talk to someone who passionately believes in owning a gun when you passionately believe they should not? Is it ever EVER going to help you or them to ridicule and name call and taunt? What is really going to happen if you do that? Do you think making someone an enemy is going to win him or her over to your way of thinking? I don’t think it will. What could you do instead? How could you tell that girl or that boy that you disagree with him/her but still care about his/her well-being? How can you tell him or her that you are hurting in a way that makes him or her reconsider rather than lash back? If you go at someone with knives, might they not use knives to defend themselves? Before speaking and acting, let’s think about the kind of world we want to live in, and then let’s show others how to make that world real.
I’m sorry life is hard, world, but it is. I’m sorry people disagree, world, but they do. I’m sorry people mess up, but they do (and so will you. Remember that.) But think about if you really want to be the mean, selfish, self-righteous kid before that’s who you become. You can be angry and hurt and confused. I am. But try to make the world a better place rather a worse one. Just try. Then try again tomorrow. I’ll try too. And I’ll have this talk with you again tomorrow if you need it.
Go get a drink of water. Then go do better today than you did yesterday. I know you can.