People who add value to others do so intentionally. I say that because to add value, leaders must give of themselves, and that rarely occurs by accident. —John C. Maxwell
Teachable moments are everywhere. Sometimes that’s a good thing; we have the ability to reinforce values and support positive action. Others, not so much; lessons learned at the hands of others doesn’t necessarily reflect the values we think are important. Most adults don’t set out to provide examples of hate, but it happens. Hate is everywhere and the best way I know to combat that is to intentionally, and aggressively teach love. Consider the following scenarios, all of which actually happened.
We moved the kids to a different school in February of this year because they weren’t responding well to the environment of their previous school. While the move was a positive one academically, one of the things we began no notice was the frequency with which one child would say to the other, usually in a fit of frustration, “I hate you.” Sometimes those words were directed at us, as well. Where was this coming from? We certainly never used that language at home and would not tolerate anyone else using those words around them. Turns out, they were hearing it from other children, not necessarily directed at them, but toward others and toward toys as they play.
Our neighbor across the street is a really cool guy. We like him a lot. One of his biggest challenges, though, is with relationships. He goes through girlfriends like I go through cheaply made shoes; it’s rare one lasts six months. His most recent flame had two little girls, ages nine and three. The nine-year-old was pleasant enough, always polite, active, and respectful of those around her. The three-year-old, however, was the antithesis of her sister. Not only was the little one a trash talking queen, she stole the tricycle from under our carport on multiple occasions, and stomped through our garden, crushing plants. We eventually had to ban her from playing with our little ones and soon after they moved.
One of our favorite couples is biracial. He has two children from a previous relationship. They make a lovely family and within their household there is a continuous emphasis on love and acceptance. So, it really hurt yesterday when she went to pick up her step-son from day camp and was told that one of the other campers had called her step-son a “F***ing n****r.” To their credit, the camp immediately addressed the situation and took appropriate action. Still, both the young man and his parents were shocked, hurt, and appalled that a child would even use such language against another child.
Sadly, I could continue, but I’m sure that’s enough to make my point. No matter how carefully we guard the environment in which our children are in, there is always a chance for hate to slip in and do its dirty work. When even small children as young as three are spewing hate toward each other, we have a serious problem. We have seen too many examples where what started as mere words from a child grew up to become a young person so consumed by hate that they pick up a gun and start shooting. If we want our children to learn love, if we want our children to become people who respond to others with love, we have to intentionally teach love at every opportunity.
There is a video circulating, which I will neither post nor link, showing the father of the Orlando shooter being very aggressive in his hate toward the LGBT community. One doesn’t have to delve too strongly into abnormal behavior to understand that at least part of the father’s anger and hate rubbed off onto his son. What if that father had been equally as vocal about love? What if he had intentionally made videos about the importance of loving those who are different from us? Could that have made a difference?
This is new territory. Always before, parents have been able to reasonably assume that if they showed love to their children, if they set a loving example of how to treat other people, if they corrected inappropriate behavior in their children as it happened, that they, too would grow up to be people who love. That’s not what has happened, nor what is currently happening. Passive love is not enough. Setting a good example is not enough. If we are not intentionally addressing matters of love, preemptively discussing how to respond to situations before they happen, creating moments for the specific purpose of teaching love, then we are leaving our children vulnerable.
I’m not good at this. I was raised with passive love. I used passive love with my boys. Intentionally teaching love is different; it’s work. But when we do it correctly, it changes the attitudes of our children, and those around us, from tolerance of hate to an expectation of love.
While walking along Mass. Ave. this past Saturday, on our way to get coffee before the parade, we came across a very colorful burlesque performer who goes by the name Honey Bourbon. Her dress was like a rainbow of satin and Miss Tippy grew very excited when she saw it. “Her dress is so pretty!,” Tippy said to Kat.
“Why don’t you tell her that?” Kat encouraged.
She did. Loudly. “Your dress is beautiful!” Tippy exclaimed, the excitement ready to burst out of her.
Miss Bourbon thanked her and we both kept walking. The exchange was quick. Simple. Maybe even forgettable for some people. Yet, that is exactly what I mean by intentionally teaching love. Someone else might have responded by telling Tippy to be quiet, or even putting space between the child and the stranger. Those actions only teach fear, though, and fear leads to hate. Instead, Kat encouraged Tippy to show her appreciation, to be kind, and not be afraid. Those are actions of love that we hope Tippy remembers and carries with her.
At Sunday night’s Tony Awards, Lin-Manuel Miranda, creator of the smash hit Hamilton, accepted the award for best score with a sonnet. I played the video for the kids yesterday and will play it for them again today. We’ve not discussed the horrible event of Orlando with them. We don’t watch broadcast news so that is one piece of sadness that has not entered their lives. What Lin has to say, though, puts the emphasis on love. Love is love is love is love. That is the lesson we want our children to learn. That is the lesson we want the whole world to learn. Love cannot be left to chance or to accident. Teaching love must be intentional and we must start now.