How are we supposed to behave when things are horrible in the world? Besides the rush of guilt for yelling at the asshole who wouldn’t step to one side on the escalator so you missed your train (yes, I know I can take the stairs but running down the escalator gets me there faster than running down the stairs!) and swearing to be thankful for your easy, wonderful life, how are we supposed to behave? Do I run to a volunteer center and sign up for every opportunity to help the homeless, or foster children, blind bunnies, and cats? Do I sign petitions or start a peaceful protest or call my congresswoman? Feeling privileged and helpless is gross and nonproductive. But getting into a Facebook fight over gun control with some yahoo with whom you went to high school (though tempting) sure isn’t the answer, either.
So this is where I turn to my baby. Every evening when I’m supposed to be reading him a bedtime story I tell him he has one job. His main responsibility in life is to not be an asshole. I tell him that women and men are equal, all humans are humans, everyone deserves a chance, the Earth is our only home so one must tread lightly, kindness is the golden rule, you never know what someone has been through so be compassionate (but why wouldn’t you be kind in the first place? I hate when people get credit for “being nice”; shouldn’t that be our default?), animals are like humans who can’t speak and they are important, too, recycle, be gentle, love is love, stand up for what you believe in but remember to listen, and most of all: Don’t be an asshole.
I’m not saying I remember to practice these every second of every day (duh, the escalator incident) but isn’t the gift of being a parent the opportunity to mold a wonderful new human? Teach the things you wish you were better at practicing? It’s going to be hard to explain to him the horrors of war, destruction, violence, and hate when he’s old enough to understand. But hopefully I will have taught him the good things in life as well.
The one thing I know I will have taught him is that he won the lottery. He was born a white male in the United States of America. I realize the privilege and weight that carries, and I feel guilty about it. Perhaps by the time he is an adult, our society won’t be run by the white patriarchy and white men won’t predictably be treated as superior humans. But to be prepared, I must teach him that the privilege—one that he didn’t work for or earn—comes with responsibility. I’ll be damned if my son doesn’t grow up to be a tolerant, unbiased, grateful, modest, egalitarian feminist. In other words, not an asshole.
“But getting into a Facebook fight over gun control with some yahoo with whom you went to high school (though tempting) sure isn’t the answer, either”