If you’ve been following this blog for any length of time, my last two posts probably took you by surprise. They took me by surprise as well. As you may know, I usually write fairly non-controversial posts about being a dad. But the recent election set me to howling, which I think was an appropriate response. Besides, I’ll share a little secret with you:
All my posts are political.
I don’t like hearing the dismissal of talk of current events as “just politics.” As in people shouldn’t let a disagreement in “politics” get in the way of a friendship. Politics is life. Politics is all about how we decide to live together in a community, in the nation, in the world. Calling that “just politics” is like writing off purposeful and intimate conversation with your children, your family, as “just talk.”
You should talk with your knuckleheads about politics. Your political views say a lot about how you think people in your community – local or global – ought to be treated. Your political views say a lot about how you think you should be treated, and what rights and responsibilities you hold. You’re going to teach your kids about that whether you intend to or not. You might as well grab some ownership of that education and talk politics openly and deliberately.
When you discuss your politics, you’re discussing your values. I can’t think of a single more important topic to speak of openly in your family than your values as a human being. Bottom line, isn’t that what we really want to pass onto our children? Even if our kids end up disagreeing with us – hell, especially if they end up disagreeing with us! – don’t we want them to know where we stand? Don’t we want to think we gave them something valuable?
It’s not just your own politics and values you have the opportunity to pass on. You’re the one that’s going to teach your child how to talk politics. The way you talk about current events informs your child how these conversations go, whether they’re Socratic dialogues, chess matches, or frontal assaults. How you react to political ads or news stories tells your knucklehead whether she should be confrontive, reactive, inquisitive, or didactic when getting into controversial topics. She’ll take cues from you whether she’s going to seek consensus or conformity from others.
You also have an opportunity to teach your child how to pick through the bones of an issue to decide which side to fall on. Sometimes knowing your stance on a hot-button issue is less helpful than knowing how you came to that decision.
The first time I remember talking politics with The Knucklehead was when he was about six or seven years old. This would have been in the early ’00s, well before the marriage equality movement had gained any traction in mainstream America. Out of the blue one night, Knucks said to me, “I don’t think men should get married.”
“Oh?” I answered. I suspected I was hearing an in-law talking, but I let that go. “Why’s that?
“I don’t know. I just think it’s wrong. Boys shouldn’t marry boys.”
This was an issue I felt pretty strongly about, and I admit, I started to feel Lecture Mode taking hold. But I took a breath, and shook my head and said, “Nah. I disagree.”
“I don’t see anything wrong with it. I don’t want to marry another guy, I have no interest in doing that myself. But when I hear something that sounds weird or different to me, I think, ‘Who is this hurting?’ And I can’t think of anyone that’s hurt by this. If two guys want to get married, that doesn’t affect me at all. I can’t see that it affects anybody except the two guys who want to get married. And it’s not hurting them. I think there should be more love in the world, not less. And if two guys love each other enough to want to get married, that’s their business. Who’s hurt by that?”
“So you think it’s OK?”
“I guess you’re right.”
Now, you and I both know I didn’t change my son’s stance on marriage equality in any realistic way. He was at an age where he wanted to be just like his dad, so of course he was going to go along with whatever I’d say. But he did begin to learn three important lessons in that conversation.
- People can have a respectful conversation about controversial matters. My “I disagree” was a simple statement of fact, not a refutation of what he’d just said.
- I gave him some kind of framework for coming to a decision on an ethical question. In this case, something as simple as the yardstick “Who is this hurting?”
- He learned about one of my core values. Love. And, that I wanted this core value distributed equitably.
That’s how we learned to talk politics in our wee little family of two. As dinnertable conversations. Does that mean I never flew off the handle and lost it when I was taken by surprise by a political ad or news story? Hell no. I lost it lots of times, and The Knucklehead added the adolescent eyeroll to his nonverbal vocabulary. But I also made sure that when I calmed down, I asked myself aloud, “why did that set me off the way it did?” And I’d sort through that. If I reacted in a way that shut down communication, I would apologize, setting an example of rebounding from a mistake. But I wouldn’t apologize for my passion. It’s right to feel offense at the truly offensive, like marginalizing people different from you. It’s good to feel how you feel. And it’s also good to put those feelings to constructive use.
That’s what talking politics (and doing politics) can teach our children.
So, this blog has always been political. It’s always been about teaching a child how to be a proud and positive adult in her town. In his country. In their world.
I have a friend who took his children to their first political rally today. He shared with me some beautiful pictures of his knuckleheads holding up signs that said, “Love.” He’s as angry as I am after last week’s election, and this is how he’s channeling it. He’s teaching his kids that love and inclusivity are worth fighting for, and that there’s something they can do about it. He’s teaching them they have a voice, and how to use it.
He’s teaching them politics. The best thing we can teach our kids.