When I was a little girl (little enough that I have no personal recollection of this story), I apparently stole a Weeble from a local store. I don’t know what was going through my head at that time. I don’t know if I asked for it and, after hearing “no,” took it anyways. I am not sure if, in my narcissistic toddler stage, I was blissfully unaware of the law or consequences. I have no idea if my actions were conscious, unconscious, or a combination of the two. What I do know is, my mother marched me back to the store and forced me to hand over the Weeble while giving a snot-filled, hysterical apology. And, we laugh about it today. It has become one of those funny stories from my youth that will get passed down from generation to generation. But, as funny as it is now, and as horrifying as it probably was at the time, I learned something.
That is one of the earliest stories I have about right and wrong and how we handled it in my house. The message was simple: you aren’t entitled to and you do not take things that don’t belong to you. That went for Weebles, bikes, and money. As I got older, my moral compass growing and evolving, and I realized the message of “not being entitled to and not taking something that didn’t belong to you” didn’t only apply to material possessions, it also applied to more abstract concepts such as a person’s body and/or sex, their joy, their reputation, their worth, and another human life. Consent, I realized, is of the utmost importance—no matter the gravity of the situation we are faced with.
So here I sit, after weeks of news about a Stanford male who raped an intoxicated and unconscious woman without her consent, and the morning after one of the deadliest mass shootings on U.S. soil. And all I can think of is those Weebles and how I was told at a young age not to take things that don’t belong to me.
The news and countless people on social media want me to segregate and rage about religion and sexual orientation and alcohol and promiscuity and terrorism. But, I won’t watch the news and I will limit my time and exposure to social media. Because all of those labels—all of those ways we categorize people and try to stick them into neat, tidy little buckets—those things are irrelevant. It matters not that a white male raped a white woman on the campus of an affluent university…it matters only that a woman was raped by a man and that her body was taken without her consent. It matters not that it was a homophobic, radical, Muslim man who went in with an assault rifle and killed and/or injured over a hundred people in a GAY nightclub. It matters only that 100 people are now dead or injured because a man went into a place where they were laughing and dancing and loving and knowingly robbed them of their lives, their security, and their joy. In both of these situations, men violently and forcefully took something that did not belong to them. That is not an abstract theory—it is a fact.
The news and countless people on social media want me to pick a side. Gay or straight. Liberal or conservative. The USA or foreigners. Gun laws or the Second Amendment. Democrat or Republican. Victim blaming or empathy and truth. Let them in or keep them out. Hate or love. Fear or faith. Either/Or. The news and social media would have me believe that there is only ONE solution to a vast array of complex problems and a hurting world. The news and social media want me to either cower or rage; not realizing that neither one of them is a feasible solution to what ails us. The news, with its suggestive headlines, would like me to believe that every situation we are faced with right now is US vs THEM and it wants me to pick a side. Social media, with its sarcastic and pointed memes and the grotesque commentary from anyone with thumbs, wants me to buy into the notion that we are at war with everyone and everything and there is only one right way of looking at things.
I’m not buying it. Not a single headline, not a single post on social media, not one iota of hate-filled, fear-inducing sensationalist piece of information. Not because I am one of the “them” that you have categorized and placed in some sort of racial, ethnic, political, religious, gender-based bucket because that might help you to rationalize some of what is going on in the world. I am not buying it because none of it aligns with the very simple, very straightforward, and timeless messages in my moral compass which state simply: “You are not entitled to things that don’t belong to you” and, “Treat people the way you want to be treated.” And, for good measure, while I am at it: “Don’t kill.”
I had a parent of one of my students email me this morning and ask me how I handle things like this because her daughter, without even knowing the details of this shooting, is having a really tough time. And, this is what I said: I love harder in a world that is so full of hate. I believe that, in times like these, it is more important than ever to keep a calm head and an open heart. I shared how we talk about The Helpers with our kids (like in that Mr. Rogers quote) and how we shower them with more love and hugs and security and normalcy and how we shut the TV off because we don’t want to be told how to think or who we should hate. And how we write if it is hard to talk about feelings and we turn to art to help process our emotions and also add more beauty to the world. I told her that I tell my children that there are bad people in this world, but I don’t categorize them as bad Muslim people or bad black people or bad Republican people or bad homophobic people. There are just bad people and we do our very best each and every day to be good people. And, one of the most important things I do with my children is I NEVER tell them not to be afraid or not to be angry or not to feel sad because squelching emotions is good for no one. Instead, I help them process their feelings in a healthy and productive way. And then we love. We do random acts of kindness. We give out hugs. We look out for our neighbors. We sit real close on the couch and watch a High School Musical marathon because we don’t want to watch the headline reel over and over and over again—the world might be a scary place, but our home doesn’t need to be. And, we keep ourselves and our kids as safe as we possibly can in a broken and beaten-down world.
So today, and in the days to come, you won’t see me arguing with people online about the who, what, when, and where. You won’t see me posting nasty memes on social media that are meant to minimize people’s feelings and discredit another person’s beliefs. You won’t see me pointing fingers and casting off entire classes of people because there are no “other people”…there are only people. I will carry on as I always do: I will post beautiful pictures, I will write empowering words, I will work in my garden, I will work on myself, I will look for the beauty and the good around me and then share it with others, I will strive to be a better version of me than I was yesterday, I will love fiercely and indiscriminately, I will mourn silently and privately, I will treat other people’s children with the same love and compassion as I do my own, I will turn to art when things feel scary and out of my control, I will walk on the beach and collect both sea glass and my thoughts, I will make love to my husband and provide unconditional love and guidance to my daughters, I will think about possible solutions and peacefully discuss those with others who believe we are all connected and we can be better, I will laugh, I will share in the pain of others, I will live with integrity, and I will never, ever assume that I have the right to cause another human being physical or emotional pain—because just like that Weeble, other humans don’t belong to me.
My children are watching.
Your children are watching.
How we handle things matters.
We all matter.
I will not be feared into loving less.