Friday, March 15, 2013

We need to talk

There's a picture in a BBC article today about the Assault Weapons Ban bill that was just passed by a panel of elected officials, and will go on to the Senate and Congress. The picture in the article is of an assortment of people, various ages, ethnicities, genders, body types - all at a shooting range. The caption? 'Teachers in Texas improve their shooting skills.'

Now, I don't know about you, but I don't want Kai's kindergarten teacher to be a skilled gunman or gunwoman. I want Kai's kindergarten teacher to be a skilled shoe-tier, snot wiper, circle drawer, and line-former. Not a gunman. Sure, I want his teacher to be able to defend him if anything terrible ever happens. But more than that - I don't want terrible things, not that sort of terrible thing, to happen at his school. No one does.

No one does, but according to many articles I've read, this contradictory reality holds:
1. a majority of Americans agree with an assault weapons ban
2. public media is skeptical of the Congress and the Senate's ability to pass such a ban

In other words - we live in a democracy where the majority of it's citizens think one thing, and it's elected officials may act in opposition to the voting majority's opinion. What a democracy.

 There are only two ways this can happen - ignorance and apathy.

We need to take a hard look at the argument of those who are advocating loudly, boldly, and lavishly (ie - millions of dollars in lobbying to your representative on Capitol Hill) for 'the right to bear arms'. Yes, we have that right. It's one of our amendments. But it's pretty vague, and unless we look at the consequences of literal interpretation, in an age where military weaponry and conflict have far surpassed what our founding fathers could have imagined, we run the risk of bowing down to an argument that I think holds no sway in today's society.

Why does someone need an assault weapon? Well, the answer usually is 'to defend myself'. (The answer surely isn't 'to go hunting' - PETA would have a furry heart attack if that were the case.) It's to defend oneself. Well, against who? I guess against the bad guy - the bad guy with an assault weapon. Oh - why does he have an assault weapon? Because he's allowed to.

Now, before you get yourself all riled up thinking "even if assault weapons are banned, people could still get their hands on them" - sure, that's true. We'd still have an illegal market of weapons - just like we have an illegal market for explosive devices and cocaine. People will always pursue power, and some people will always use force to accomplish that power, no matter the cost.

Here's the thing - the 2nd amendment was created at a time when our founding fathers had just declared independence from the King of Britain, at a time when the only way independence from tyranny could be guaranteed was if individual citizens 'bore arms'. The only guarantor of freedom was an armed populace.

But that is no longer the case. Warfare has changed, weaponry has changed, and (perhaps most significantly) the access to and transfer of information has changed. And still, proponents of the 2nd amendment hide behind it's original principle as if it were still relevant today.

(We also don't live in a country where we have to defend ourselves or no one else will come - we don't have to be our own militia. Sure, in some places public safety services/police forces are more scarce, more corrupt, more negligent than in others. But my point is, we have another option. That wasn't the case in the 1780's.)

Shockingly, public and social media seem to have entirely missed addressing this simple fact: we have no hope as a general populous of standing up to our government militarily. Even if we amassed all the assault weapons in the country, we would have no chance against the military our taxes so solidly fund. And I'm not saying we should. Here's what I am saying - we no longer live in a country where we can cling to guns as a way of assuring our rights. That boat has long sailed.

We live in a world of drones, of massive data gathering about individuals (about us) from all sorts of companies, corporations, and governments, of nuclear weapons. That's the world we live in. Whether we like it or not, whether we have all the social media accounts we can or try to keep a low profile, whether we pay for everything with card or still try to use mostly cash - we live in a world where information about us is incredibly accessible. And subsequently, our social framework and understanding of government's role and power must adapt.

Instead of arguing about whether or not we should be allowed to have assault weapons, perhaps we should be pushing the bigger issues. Perhaps we should make sure we are arguing on behalf of/exercising the rights of the 1st Amendment "the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances".

A redress of grievances. In other words - we have the right to ask our government to right the wrongs.

Here's the other unspoken half of that - we still live in a democracy. We still live in a country that holds votes for public office every four, in some cases every two, years. We live in a country where there is actual potential to have a literal voice. Sure, you and I are two miniscule drops in a bucket of hundreds of millions of drops - but we're still a drop. Not just an idea of a drop.

The impact of that reality is huge - we do actually have the power to change. And why? Because our senators and congress people want so badly to remain in their positions of power (which is just human nature - ask anyone who has a driver's license). So, because people like power, and because we live in a democracy - you have a voice. Your voice, the voting voice, is louder than the NRA, than the health care lobbyists, than anything else. Why? Because your voice votes - their voice doesn't. Theirs might be better funded, more articulate, and more present - but it doesn't vote.

I have yet to meet a person who doesn't have an opinion on gun control, on the sequester, on health care, on mental health in this country, on medicare, on medicaid, on education, on military and foreign affairs. I have met one person who has written or called their elected official. And it's not me.

I'm writing this to get myself in gear, and hopefully, if you're an American citizen, to get you in gear, too. There are other countries in the world where voices are not as able to be heard, but we are not living in one of them. Use your voice, or (if I may be so bold) perhaps you shouldn't be complaining.  Once you use your voice, complain away. 

I'm not pushing any particular agenda, I'm not encouraging you to only call your representatives if you agree with me - I'm just encouraging involvement. As a country, it is high time we start acknowledging that, while the most sensational, the presidential race is hardly the most important opportunity for us to raise our voice. It's only a 3rd of the power, if that. The other two thirds should hear our voices just as strongly.

If they don't, we can count on a country that is not actually governed by those pursuing the best of their constituents (our best) - it will be governed by those listening to the loudest voice. And those loudest voices will be funded voices - funded by a cause, by a rights group, by an industry. If we want a country with safe elementary schools, accessible and quality health care, sustainable social services, and the ability to strive for 'life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness' (not just the next paycheck) - we're going to have to use our voices.

To find out who your representative is click here.

To find out who your congressman/woman is click here.

To contact the White House directly, click here.


Tuesday, March 5, 2013

The lessons I will not teach

I've done a lot of thinking over the past 3 years - motherhood, while linguistically monotonous, is mentally exhausting. The constant need for ready answers, for gentle words, for succinct and accurate life lessons at a moment's notice - motherhood is anything but brainless.

Over the course of my life, I've worked with a lot of people, a lot of kids, a lot of different backgrounds/socio-economic standings/religions - and now, with 3 little years of motherhood as a modest platform, I've come a conclusion. There are some lessons, significant life lessons, lessons that some would tout as paramount to growing a successful/'good' human being, that I will not teach. I simply won't do it.

I won't teach these lessons because while I agree with their original core intent, I disagree with the result I think it produces in us as people. I won't teach these lessons because I think they are false lessons, and perhaps the reason so many of us went through crises in our adolescence (in addition to the fact we were adolescents) was that we were becoming aware of the realities of a world we'd been shielded from. Perhaps cynicism's roots are in childhood lessons. Perhaps disenchantment stems from simplified life lessons from those who should be best equipped to gently introduce us to the hardest realities.

But here's the thing - when I choose not to teach these lessons, I am choosing a much more difficult task. One I don't know the outcome of, and one that will require more mental attention, more careful structuring of sentences, and more availability to guide my little bundles of innocence and newness.

But I think it's right, to equip rather than shield, and to call to a higher standard than cater to my own fear of shattered innocence. I mean, can innocence be informed rather than shattered? I think so.

So - with that decided (and with very careful attention to making sure good parenting and my children's best remains at the core of these decisions), these are the lessons I will not teach.

* Fairness. I will not teach fairness. This world is not a fair place, and the simple fact my children were born into a home with literate parents who had stable incomes is a testament to that fact. Instead, I will teach kindness, consideration, and humility - for those things create a person who truly sees others, and who I think more truly sees themselves. But I will not teach fairness.

* Pity. I will not teach pity. Pity breeds fear. Pity tells us we are better than others, and that their position is to be avoided at all costs. Instead, I will teach compassion, generosity, and grace - because these things breed change and gratefulness. But I will not teach pity.

* Entitlement. I will not teach entitlement. While certain things - even simple things like physical safety, access to food, or right to free speech/right to education/right to equal treatment - may be good things, they are not guaranteed things. And just because they are accomplished in the moment, and even for the foreseeable future, does not mean they are guaranteed. Instead, I will teach self-respect, values founded on faith, and wisdom - for these things create an unshakeable person with hope and perspective. But I will not teach entitlement.

* To be against. I will not teach my children to be against things. When we are against things, we choose to participate in the defeat of something - we set ourselves in a position of power. Being against things breeds hatred, arrogance, and close-mindedness.  I will teach them to be for things. I will teach passion, courage, and perseverance - for these things create a person who will catalyze change, instill strength in others, and better the world. But I will not teach them to be against. (note - I recognize the dissonance of this particular lesson, since I'm saying I'm against being against things. Sometimes the actions of being for something and against something are the same, but the attitude behind them decides the basis for the action. Thus, the focus on all of the things I will teach. Figured that needed a little acknowledging :) )

And I think we all strive for about the same thing - none of us want to produce children who truly think fairness is an absolute reality, we know it's not. We don't want children who pity others, we don't want entitled children (though we might be pretty sure they came out into the world that way...), and we don't want children who view the world only as a set of negative obstacles to be squashed. But, it's hard, and in my play dates, in my running errands, in the television shows the kids watch, and even in my own conversations with my kids - I hear the subtleties of these lessons being taught. I see the timers being set so everyone gets a fair turn, I take too far the good allocation of toys to little people who need boundaries and inadvertently breed entitlement. 

With some of these lessons, I'm not even quite sure how I teach them, or if I do so accidentally - but I know they are taught by many and I don't want to teach them. So I vigilantly watch for little ways they sneak into my language, attitudes, and interactions with my children, and with others - for little eyes are always watching and little ears are always listening. And with some of these lessons, like fairness, I'll constantly juggle teaching my children to treat others with fairness (which I think is rooted in kindness, consideration, and humility) while not expecting fairness in return (though I will teach them to have a founded sense of self-worth that believes they have just as much of right to fairness as others - but while not teaching entitlement.... See? This is going to be tricky).

My point is simply this - I want to raise children who are strong, who are informed, who have strength of character that is built on knowledge of reality coupled with hope and faith. And so, there are the lessons I will not teach, and the ones I will teach instead.

I suppose my conclusion would be this - parenting is exhausting, and it's so easy to slip into auto-pilot and in those critical moments parrot the answers or phrases or explanations we know. But conscious, intentional, forward thinking parenting is much more likely to raise the people our children are capable of being - the people our children already are.

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