At some point, we as a country will have to reckon with the fact that this type of mass violence does not happen in other advanced countries. It doesn’t happen in other places with this kind of frequency. And it is in our power to do something about it. – President Obama, June 18, 2015
Tomorrow is Juneteenth. It marks a day of celebration for the independence of American slaves. It marks 150 years since the Emancipation Proclamation (1863) was finally delivered to Texans (1865). Buy books, share with people, have a feast, make a donation, attend an event.
Tomorrow, on Juneteenth, do something to celebrate, something to remember, and something to carry forward the spirit and purpose Juneteenth encompasses.
Charleston is not my community.
Emanuel AME Church is not my church.
But I share responsibility for addressing the violence that happened there.
Terrorist. Racist. Crazy.
These are labels affixed to the shooter. From a literal stand point, he caused terror, he shot people not his race, and it is not mentally healthy to shoot people.
There are better equipped people talking about each of those issues: terrorism*, race**, mental health***. I encourage you to go read what they have to say. I have no intention or desire to subtract from those perspectives. For links, scroll to the bottom.
So, what can I possibly lend to this conversation? I teach anti-terrorism and anti-hate crime courses. I am a Christian. I am a citizen of the United States. I am a person of earth. But, as I said, other people are addressing those things.
I want to tell you that it isn’t enough for me to be horrified, which I am.
It isn’t enough for me to question our gun laws, though I do.
It isn’t enough for me to pray, but I continue.
It isn’t enough for me to be outraged at the state of mental health care in this country for those who struggle, criminally or not, even though I am outraged to my core.
I want to tell you that I have something more to do. It is my duty. I am honor bound to do this thing. So are we all.
Start with self.
Then teach those closest.
Then teach anyone anywhere.
I’m still working on self and always will be.
I’m still working on those closest and always will be.
This post is one step in teach anyone anywhere.
In my house, like all houses, we have rules. Here are some of my most crucial rules, and we practice all the time.
Words have meaning.
Dumb, fat, mean, stupid, idiot, crazy, terrorist, racist, sexist, hate.
Love, freedom, equality, peacemaker, healthy, bright, acceptable.
All of these (and all the others) mean something to us. I feel like I spend half my life defining words for my children, who are 10, 8, and 7. And that’s one of the most important jobs I have. Without language, we cannot bridge differences. Some language sneaks in no matter what. That’s why it’s so important to teach the meanings of words in the context of past, present, and future with the backdrop of humanity in sharp focus.
Children are born into a society of words. It is our responsibility to teach them the dangers, joys, and tragedies of words in their multitude of uses.
No means no.
Always. In every circumstance where the self is in play and there is no moral or legal imperative in play: Everyone has the right to expect that no means no. Everyone has the responsibility to ensure that no means no.
Children don’t get to override other children when they communicate a no. Adults don’t get to override other adults when they communicate a no. Children don’t get to override adults when they communicate a no. Adults don’t get to override children when they communicate a no. No one overrides anyone else’s no.
What makes a no? Well, I asked my boys and this is what they said:
- “I don’t like this.”
- “That hurts.”
- “You’re hurting me.”
- Inching away
- Shrugging off
- Shutting Down
- Anxious behaviors, like pulling faces, breathing quickly, pushing
- Closing a door
- “Not right now”
- “No thank you”
- “Go away”
- “Please leave me alone”
- Looking for exits
- Avoiding eye contact
- “Yes, but”
- Throwing things, destroying things
- Closing off a part of the body: eyes, ears, mouth, arms crossed
If someone violates ‘no means no’ against you or anyone else, tell a trusted adult. You will never be in trouble for this.
Ever. No exceptions. It is not deemed tattling. It is not shunned.
Then the caveat: When people disagree with this rule, find another trusted adult to tell and keep finding a trusted adult until someone helps you.
DNA is part common code binding humans together in commonality. DNA is part secret code, beautifying humans together in differentiation. DNA is a matter of code, every piece in every person is intrinsically valuable.
Always. No exceptions. Nonnegotiable. Undiluted.
Then the caveat: When people disagree with this rule, work harder to exemplify this principle.
Everyone believes something. Everyone is allowed to disagree. No one is allowed to hurt others in disagreement.
Ever. Ever. Ever.
Then the caveat: When people challenge this rule, hold them accountable in a just and reasonable way.
To defend yourself and others from harm, you may use force, but only enough force to stop the harm.
If someone is harming you in any way, use the force it takes to be safe. Force may be telling a trusted adult. Force may be involving others. Force might be running away. Force might be hitting, clawing, kicking, struggling. But force must rarely be deadly. That means you don’t defend your property by shooting to kill someone. You don’t shoot to kill someone you suspect of harming or wanting to harm you. You don’t use any weapon against others unless it is the only way to defend yourself or others from existing or imminent harm.
Your opinion that ideological harm is happening does not justify killing.
Your opinion that emotional harm is happening does not justify killing.
Your opinion that physical harm is happening does not justify killing.
Your opinion that spiritual, social, political, sexual, or any other kind of harm is happening does not justify killing.
Killing is only ever justified when the killer possesses no lesser force that can end or prevent the harm.
This is not a legal opinion or legal advice. It is a principle my family practices.
YAHOO = You Always Have Other Options
My option is not the only option. Neither is yours. We have a responsibility to look for other options when the option we have is not the best for everyone.
OODA = Observe, Orient, Decide, Assess
Every person is responsible for situational awareness and applying it to life. Observe bullying, harm, something not quite right – keep on the OODA cycle until everyone is as safe and sound as possible.
In the sphere of my everyday life, teaching myself and my boys these principles is one of the highest achievements I can attain.
It is a tangible, verifiable way to rise above the transgressions happening every single day and to love others the best we can.
It is the thing I can and will do today like every other day.
Notes (or related rants I ranted while I wrote this post):
Why You Should Learn the Boyd Cycle: In Stranger Danger Doesn’t Cut It, I discuss the Boyd Cycle and its usefulness in teaching our kids. This five-year-old girl may never have heard of the Boyd Cycle, but she knew what to do when someone who was just praying with you opens fire on you: you play dead. Especially if you are a five-year-old girl. It’s not right that our children need to be battle ready, but it can’t be wrong to teach them. Teach the Boyd Cycle to yourself and your kids or anyone else in your midst. It is a method for paying attention and being an agent for positive change in a multitude of situations.
Babies and Biases: Children enter the world without biases. Some biases they learn simply from existing in the world, the way a child as young as three-months-old may prefer faces that resemble the race of his/her primary caregivers. Not all biases are bad, and some are necessary for survival, like a bias toward love, optimal health and care, and so forth. At birth, babies are partially formed personalities, yet they are devoid of hatred. They will have times they hunger, times they enjoy, times they wonder, times they feel more deeply than they can express. And they rely on their adults for everything. They rely on their adults to notice. They rely on their adults to protect and nurture, to teach and to learn.
Impressions on Children: Want to read a smattering of voices on the impact of stimuli on humans, here you go: Constant Exposure to Negative News, Effects of Noise on Children, Impact of Media Use on Youth, Parenting Impacts on Kids, Increased Freezing and Decreased Positive Affect, Temperament Develops Over Time.
It takes so little to impress upon the chubby clay of a child. Yet, consistency seems to be the key both in the negative and the positive impressions on children. Hitting a child when they crawl off a blanket impresses upon the child unquestioning obedience without free thought. Allowing a child to crawl away out of a zone of safety impresses upon the child curiosity in the absence of boundaries. There seems to be no one right way to raise a child, and so children are constantly, sometimes brutally, pressed upon until they are hardened and resemble some definition of grown.
Religion and the Lack of Religion Both Impress Upon Children: Monotheism, polytheism, agnosticism, and atheism are impressed upon children. Sometimes with love and honesty. Sometimes with brutality and hatred. Sometimes with absurdity or negligence or thoughtlessness. Sometimes every religious service or rite is followed by adults rehashing biases, prejudices, and distastes. Sometimes common moments are followed by adults teaching empathy, love, compassion, mercy, grace by example.
Labels are Not My Favorite: Labels are applied with the stickiest stuff we have in our possession: love and hate. Children may be labeled by a race, a religion, a point on a spectrum, a notch on the bedpost, an arrow in a quiver, parentage, class, company. A child may be labeled as an object of pride, a disappointment, colicky, perfect, happy, whiny, ugly, precious, a citizen, a fetus, a blessing, a curse, an ethnicity, a birth order, a personality type, bold, shy, slow, bright, generation-fill-in-the-blank, privileged or not, worthwhile or not, valuable or not. From before birth, children are labeled against their wills and set up for a lifetime of having and experiencing perception problems.
Links, of which I agree to varying degrees:
terrorism* Charles Pierce, Esquire, The Root, Washington Post, Think Progress, New York Times, deadly force
racism** Iowa NAACP Leader, Salon, Gawker, USA Today, TakePart, New Yorker,
mental health*** Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, HuffPo, Salon
politics – CNN, a political cartoon