Watching the news with my son was an eye-opening experience once he turned four-years-old. What was once a fleeting glance at a screen became a deluge of curious questions, all from innocent eyes. Questions that I often don’t know answers to.
I first noticed it in June 2020. “Mama, why is that policeman sitting on that other man?” he asked. I looked at the footage of George Floyd’s murder and started to digest what was happening, what I was seeing. He was wide-eyed, leaning into the screen. Our default parenting mode is honesty and transparency at a level that they understand, so I explained that the policeman wasn’t giving him enough room to breathe. “That’s not okay,” he replied and followed up, asking why the policeman would want to hurt that man. We talked about how, in this country, people are discriminated against because of the color of their skin, and how that isn’t fair or just. “I don’t get it, mama… does the policeman hate the man?” His wide eyes turned glassy, about in tears.
“Bubby, sometimes we’re afraid of the things we don’t know. But it’s hard to hate up close. That’s why we always get to know everyone and hear their story.”
He paused, nodded, and then ran off on another tangential toddler dinosaur diatribe, switching subjects. I chalked any semblance of a coherent answer up to learning from Tarana Burke and Brene Brown, and took a deep breath, grateful for their wisdom coming out of my mouth when I didn’t know what to say.
Over the past week, we’ve used this phrase a few times. Once about the orders Tex. Gov. Greg Abbott gave to his state agencies to investigate gender-affirming care for transgendered children as his Department of Family Protection and Services labeled it “child abuse.” The other as we saw Ukrainians flee their homes and beloved homeland as air-raid sirens blared overhead while Russia invaded their borders. Everything feels heavy and I don’t have any answers, just more unresolved questions.
Specifically, one question at the forefront:
Why are humans so driven to intrude or invade or influence people that they don’t bother to intentionally know without an agenda?
To understand their background, their experiences, what they’re scared of, and what brings them hope. It’s easy to fling opinions about high-stakes issues around like confetti, but they turn into glass shards without knowing the people it directly impacts. But to really know the people we initially want to convince or influence, we have to sit directly opposite of them and listen. And once we listen, we need to ask ourselves deeper questions. To do the mirror work and go even deeper, like Dr. Shawn Ginwright would say.
There are times when I fall into the trap of not wanting to do the work and examine my own biases, too. With so much going on in the world, I know that I have a very privileged view and perspective. I also know that comes with responsibility. So, instead of rushing to judgment, I’ll continue working to ask questions. Who benefits from this conflict? Who is hurt the most?
In Dr. Ginwright’s book “The Four Pivots: Reimaging Justice, Reimagining Ourselves” he lays out the framework that can bring about social change, both in our global world and at home. I highly recommend listening to his conversation with Brene Brown on Unlocking Us and digging in more. I’ll be doing the same as the weeks go on.
After a week of global turmoil and personal ups and downs, I still have fewer answers than I’d like. All I know is that, if my son asks about transgendered youth and Ukrainian kids, I’m going to ask the questions together so we can both look close to the issue and see the person on all sides of the equation. I’ll remain steadfast in my getting to know another person’s story and see them where they’re at, not where I want them to be. To love them with empathy and compassion, even though their experience is not similar to my own. It’s difficult, but it’s worth it. I hope we can all do the same.