Sunday, November 13, 2016

It Takes a Village

Dear America,

As many of you have probably noticed this week, social media has become a wasteland of emotional discord. I think we all assumed the conclusion of the election would bring about an age of polite happiness and proliferated cat memes. While my feed continues to be rife with felines, very few people have been holding hands and singing Kumbaya. One of the most disturbing elements we’ve seen this week are the news stories on the increase in hate speech. The most heartbreaking are when it is perpetuated by children. 

Now, before you stop reading, deciding that this is one of THOSE blogs, I implore you to continue. This blog is not about Hillary or Trump. It is not about politics. It is about our future.

Children are sponges. They absorb what they see and hear and then they repeat it. When young, they are immensely trusting and so assume what they hear from people in their community must be okay. They have not yet developed the means to filter, sort, and evaluate. It is ultimately our responsibility to expose them to the right elements (and again I am not talking politics).

The aphorism “It Takes a Village” is a true one. Parents are not the only people influencing their children. Extended family plays a part. Church, school, athletic organizations, Boy and Girl scouts, etc. all fill a role. So to does exposure to television, books, radio, and media in any form. All of these elements combine to form their belief structure, and much of it happens unintentionally. The news is on in the background while a child is playing in their room but loud enough for them to hear. Adult discussion conducted when children are nearby contribute (think about this as Thanksgiving approaches). They hear and absorb all of it.

Wrong Bastard. He knows nothing.
I remember the first time I used the word “bastard.” I was nine or ten and some older kids down the street wouldn’t let me play basketball with them. I was not happy. I went in the house and complained to my mom, who was making dinner in the kitchen. My summation of the entire experience: “They are bastards.”

You can imagine my mom's shock. She quickly explained why it was inappropriate for me to use a word like that. I remember not using it again until I was out of earshot of an adult. 

A more poignant example might be the time I asked my mom about oral sex. I was about the same age and heard a news report regarding sexual assault. I didn’t understand why kissing was a bad thing so I asked. She quickly put me straight on all elements of the story and I learned both that kissing and oral sex did not equate, and what sexual assault was.

On a side note--it was always my poor mom when it came to this stuff, although I have a zinger of a story when at four years old I announced to a dinner party in clinical detail how my mom and dad had come to make me; it's a miracle I made it out alive.

So, all of this to say, we don’t know what the children around us pick up. We don’t know what they hear on the TV playing in the restaurant when we are out to lunch. We don’t know what they overhear the neighbors say when playing in the yard. We don’t know what some other kid tells them during the endless hours they are away from home and involved in their own life.

But, we are responsible for it all the same, and I am not just speaking to parents. Yes, parents have the greatest influence over their children’s lives, but we are the village. We have a responsibility to shape these children in a way that brings a positive impact into the lives of others. We have a responsibility to alter their course when they begin to drift. If we don’t, we are just as responsible for the village idiot as we are for the village angel.

It’s like the song 'Carefully Taught' from South Pacific says (click here for a great article on the song):

You've got to be taught
To hate and fear,
You've got to be taught
From year to year,
It's got to be drummed
In your dear little ear
You've got to be carefully taught.
You've got to be taught to be afraid
Of people whose eyes are oddly made,
And people whose skin is a diff'rent shade,
You've got to be carefully taught.
You've got to be taught before it's too late,
Before you are six or seven or eight,
To hate all the people your relatives hate,
You've got to be carefully taught!

First, we have to accept responsibility. We should step into the void when we see a lack of direction in a kid’s moral compass. Nudge them in the right direction. Show them why chanting “Build a Wall” at every brown person is not right. Show them why the n-word has no place in their mouth or their thoughts. Show them that tearing down a member of the LGBT community only demeans themselves as a person. 

A great example.
If they are only shown at home that someone who looks different than they do is less than they are, then show them different. Be the model for empathy and teach them to see people as people. Teach them that differences between people and cultures are beautiful. And be willing to stand up and fight for it.

Our village can be a place where everyone is welcomed and celebrated for who they are and what they look like. Or it can be a place of distrust and hate. Our actions and words around those who are the most susceptible are the brick and mortar that build our village. Ultimately, it falls on our shoulders to decide where we want to live. 




  1. Frank I am Carmen's sister and listening to you has make me cry to see that there is hope for America in people like you. I Heard about the Word "Brown" when I was 18 for the first time in my life while attending a Conference with my school counselor in San Antonio. And it made reference to my skin color. So Reading your beautiful Words and thoughts has made me realize why I also love all my American friends and family. Because in the end we all are citizens of this world and the only thing that matters is what is in your heart and your thoughts which ultimately define the kind of person each of us is. God gave us the opportunity to be different because it makes our lifes unique and interesting. God Bless, Marisol

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