Parents Can Help Halt the Hate

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It’s been six days since the country was turned on its head as a result of the chaos that ensued in the typically idyllic town of Charlottesville, Virginia. By now you’re well aware of the events that transpired, so I’ll spare you the pain of reliving it.

All I want to know is, “How did we get here, America?”

I, like all of you, have given much thought to this question. It’s an inquiry for which there is no simple answer. However, I do believe there is a way out. I believe that there is light at the end of this dark tunnel we find ourselves traveling down at a high rate of speed, knowing we are losing control, just hoping to make it out safely before our lives come crashing down.

I believe that eradicating this insidious hatred ends at home. It ends with us, the parents of impressionable young ones. We must see their innocence as a beacon of hope at a time in which we find our desire for a peaceful society being trumped by hate. We must weaponize their blank slates for the good of our country and ensure they have every chance to live in a society free from bigotry and oppression.

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You see, I refuse to accept the findings of some scientists that racism is an inherent component of one’s DNA makeup. Yes, the human brain does have a natural ability to activate the fight or flight response when encountered with a perceived threat. However, those threats are just that: a person’s perception of reality. But, perception can be molded. Perception can be changed. Hate can be avoided.

So how do we do it? I have some ideas, and I’d love to hear your thoughts. Together, we can halt the hate.

  1. Let’s focus on teaching our kids empathy.

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You’ll hear empathy being a buzz word in schools across the country, and I think it’s about damn time. There is a huge difference between sympathy and empathy. Showing sympathy is as simple as saying a quick sorry to a friend going through tough times or writing on someone’s Facebook wall after seeing they lost their job. It requires very little effort. On the other hand, empathy requires much more on our part.

In order to effectively empathize with one’s situation, we must take the time to put ourselves in their shoes.

How are they feeling?

Why are they feeling that way?

How would I feel if I were in the same situation?

Empathy requires energy. It demands that we stop and think about things that make us feel uncomfortable. But, it also brings about greater understanding of one’s plight. It brings about a desire within us to do whatever we can to help our neighbor overcome their pain and sorrow.

As I reflect upon the actions of students in previous years, I see how teenagers are great at displaying sympathy. You ask a kid to apologize to the gay classmate he/she just called a “fag,” and the offender will very quickly mumble a sorry, give a cold handshake, and scurry out of the building. But what did that student actually learn? They learned that a halfhearted apology gets them out of further trouble.

What the aforementioned event lacked was empathy. Why was “fag” the first word that came to the offender’s mind? Why was victim so hurt by the word choice? What obstacles may stand in the way of the victim’s daily happiness? What could I do to help?

By learning to be empathetic rather than simply sympathetic, we give ourselves an opportunity to gain a deeper level of understanding and respect for our fellow human being. It will breed tolerance and acceptance of differences. Empathy is the trait that can vastly improve relationships in this country.

  1. We must avoid telling our kids to be “color-blind.”

Have you ever heard someone defend another’s actions by saying, “Oh, they can’t be racist. They’re so color-blind!” It’s been said so many times. At first glance, many would argue that being “color-blind” in the context of race relations is a good thing. But, is it really?

Let’s think back to what it means to show empathy. If we are truly “color-blind,” is it possible to, at the same time, be empathetic toward those being oppressed? In saying that someone is “color-blind,” we are stating that a person doesn’t see a neighbor by the color of their skin. They just see a human being. That’s all well and good, but there’s something missing. There’s sympathy, but there’s no empathy. There’s no attempt to educate one’s self regarding the obstacles standing in the way of minorities. There’s no time being taken to put one’s self in the shoes of an African American recently denied admission to an Ivy League school despite a flawless academic record. Or, of the African American who’s been shot for reaching for his wallet too quickly.

In order to improve race relations in this country, we need to take the time to truly understand what members of different races are feeling and why. We need to have difficult conversations. Telling a group of African-Americans that you’re “color-blind” is essentially saying that you don’t know of the oppression they’ve encountered and you don’t really have the time to understand. But, it’s all good because you don’t see color! Quite frankly, it’s not hard to see why many African Americans find the term “color-blind” insulting.

I want my children to see color. I want my children to understand the history of every race. If they can, they’ll grow up to be empathetic with a strong desire to stand up for the rights of all.

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  1. In the end, all we need is love.

“Love is all you need.”

Of course I understand that all of what I’ve said is easier said than done. It’ll be, without a doubt, an incredibly massive undertaking and one that will involve some uncomfortable conversations. However, we need to look at the end game. Challenging lessons now will lead to happier, healthier lives later. Isn’t that what we truly want for our children and our country?

Thanks for reading and know that I’m sending nothing but peace, love, and positive vibes to each and every one of you!

Until next time,

Ryan

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