Dear Children: Here's How You Can Fix This Mess

by Elizabeth Small
Originally Published: 
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Dear Children,

The past couple weeks have been hard — even for your grown-ups. With the shootings of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile, people are angry and hurting. People are suffering. People are exhausted. And no one knows how to fix this.

For better or worse, this is your problem. You didn’t make this mess, but as I have taught you from the time you were toddlers cleaning up blocks before supper, whoever made the mess doesn’t really matter. What does matter is that you can help, so you should. We are in this together.

My heart has broken a thousand times this week that this is the legacy that you have been dealt. But the reality is, you must navigate your way through this, and you must be part of the solution. As you muddle through tragedy with the rest of us, here is what I can tell you for certain:

Never forget that all of us only get to see a tiny part of this great big world.

Remember when we were driving in the car and you pointed out that, if you knew only the people in our family, you would think that every single person on earth had brown eyes, just because the four of us all have brown eyes? You laughed thinking about how silly that logic would be and how if you did then meet a person with green, hazel, blue, or gray eyes, you might not even think they were a person.

Grown-ups can forget that many parts of their lives are like that. Their schools, churches, mosques, temples, workplaces, and neighborhoods often like our car on that day. People who are alike, within walls, giving us a sense that the whole world is alike. Well, it is not. So don’t close your eyes, look out the windows. Learn about other people’s experiences.

Believe people when they tell you that they are hurting.

A lot of grown-ups are forgetting how to do this. When someone tells you that something hurts or is difficult for him or her: listen. People experience things very differently depending on their own life experience, and you have no reason not to be open to other people’s experiences. Just because you can’t feel it, doesn’t mean that it isn’t real. Your job is to lessen the suffering of others. You do not get to say what suffering is worthy. You just get to help.

When someone asks you to pay attention to something, don’t tell them that their thing is not important just because your thing is important too.

Remember when we raised money for children with Type I Diabetes? Remember going to the walk, and listening to the kids explain what their daily experience living with type 1 diabetes was like? Well, what if in the middle of that rally, anytime a child started to explain their experience with diabetes, I spoke over them, telling them about my experience with thyroid issues. That would kind of made me a jerk, no? It’s not that I don’t have a valid experience; it’s just that the rally is not about me. It’s an opportunity to listen and learn from someone else’s suffering. Your own suffering is not always the issue at hand. Pay attention when others ask you to.

Everyone thinks that they are the ‘good guy.’

One of my favorite professors told me once, “It is not enough to be right, you must also be clever.” You may feel deeply that your position is the righteous one. But guess what, so does everyone else.

When I was a kid there was a show about a dinosaur family and the issue of war came up. War is a horrible thing, even on shows with puppets. The mom on that show explained “war” by describing it as an acronym for “We Are Right.” I don’t think any human or puppet has come closer to the truth there.

Entrenching oneself in unquestioning belief does not change things. In order to change a person’s heart, you must win their ear. This will never happen while you put fault on them. I want you to change the world, but this cannot happen while you see yourself as the good guy, because that means there must be a “bad guy.” There are no bad guys. There are only people who are hurting or don’t know better. That’s where we can step in and educate and heal.

And sometimes, you will be the one who doesn’t know better. When you are, accept that truth graciously, and move on with the new knowledge.

When you see someone being treated unfairly, speak up.

You have a mouth to speak with and a heart to feel with. Use them both regularly. If you stand by and watch someone being treated poorly, and you don’t do something about it, then in my book, you are just as much at fault. When you see someone on the playground who isn’t being included, include them. When you grow up and see someone not being promoted, speak up then too. When you see violence, of any kind, speak out against it.

This will be difficult to do. You will want to be accepted. You will want to be protected. You will enjoy the comforts that you are afforded in the moment, and you will not want to risk those. But here’s the deal: When we don’t speak up, we give permission to continue the behavior. So the reality is, whether or not you speak, you are making a statement.

Go see the world.

Get out of your own head by reading everything you can get your hands on. Get out of your own neighborhood by saving your pennies for travel. Once you have seen the world, and studied hard, you will start to notice the patterns. Once you are familiar with the patterns, it will be easier for you to interrupt them.

Question everything, even your grown-ups.

Don’t take anything for granted. Seek to understand the reasoning, context, and meaning for everything.

I’m in your corner.

And I am filled with hope that you will do better than we did.

I love you. And the soul-drenched, radiating love that I feel for you is the same love that every mother on earth feels for her child. Honor that love in the way that you treat every other child.


Your Mother

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