Carefully Taught

Sometimes we focus so intently on everything we think is going wrong, all the unfairness, mean-spirited behaviors, outright hatred and violence in the world we get caught off guard when something goes right. This week I’ve witnessed a few go-right moments that leave me breathless, teary-eyed, and full of more hope than I’ve felt in a long time.

As most of you know I pretty much lived in my little hometown community theater as a kid.  Port Austin Community Playhouse helped define me when I was growing up, opening my eyes to people, concepts, and possibilities I couldn’t have imagined in any other way.  It all started with my first musical, South Pacific by Rogers and Hammerstein, when I was about 12. I played a Polynesian girl and all my lines were in French.  No, I did not then, nor do I now, speak French.  But that little part changed my life in so many ways.  There is a song in this play, You’ve Got to be Carefully Taught, that is sung by a young sailor struggling to reconcile his love for a Polynesian girl with his racist upbringing. Even at that age, living in a tiny, rural 99% white world I couldn’t understand why anyone would deliberately teach a child to hate and fear people who are different from them.  It didn’t make sense to me but I just wrote it off as something in a play, I wasn’t aware it was actually a thing.

Sadly, it is still a thing. Children continue to be indoctrinated with hate-filled rhetoric for whatever reason by the adults in their lives. These children will grow up believing differences of any kind are to be feared, hated, fought against, suppressed, wiped out. Their way is the only true/correct/legitimate way of being. The color of their skin is superior.  Their gender is better. Their religion is correct. My heart sinks every time I see a child at a protest holding a sign that promotes a hate-filled agenda, and my hope in the humanity of this country sinks as well.

And then one day a little white envelope appears on our table. Enter hope. A young person in Carli’s life wrote her a letter. It was a school assignment, to write to someone you admire. She wrote from her heart, saying she was very proud of Carli and she admired her for being brave enough to live her life authentically. She openly expressed her love for and support of Carli, and offered to talk or text anytime. She said she prays for Carli every day.  This child’s parents taught her carefully, just as surely as the parents of the child protester, but instead of teaching through fear, they taught through love.  They encouraged independent thinking, nurtured empathy, and modeled compassion.  They taught her to embrace differences rather than seek to destroy them.  Carli and I grateful for this child and her whole family, because they gave us back hope in our future.

There are plenty of signs that all is not lost, that people really can be decent if given the chance. One of our transgender friends told us about her successful coming out at work. The fear leading up to workplace coming out is intense, and people tend to play out various scenarios in their minds about how it will go. We try to categorize people by our expectations of their level of support and acceptance. Carli and I had many discussions about how she expected people would react when she came out, which ones were likely allies and which ones she expected to shun her.  As it turned out, she has been treated very well.  But she was very deliberate and gentle in her approach, and she had shared this approach with our friend who in turn used a similar tactic to come out.  We were thrilled and cried tears of joy when this friend told us how well it was going for her.  She thanked us for having shared Carli’s experience, it helped her make her plan and she was grateful.  She said she hadn’t given people enough credit and hadn’t expected them to be so decent to her.  This was a welcome, very pleasant surprise and another sign of hope in our future.

These glimmers of hope shine in my soul and keep me motivated to continue writing.  I want to share dozens, hundreds of stories about love, acceptance, compassion, empathy, and authenticity. Storytelling is education with a heart and soul.  It’s an important tool for adults to use when carefully teaching their children. Done correctly, it will result in generations of storytellers who will talk about the days when they helped wipe hate out of existence.

 

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