I recently watched a viral video of a boy who had been bullied since first grade. As is so often the case when I wax contemplative, I thought of a Simpsons episode. Marge is in her room with Homer who complains about childhood trauma suffered at the hands and mouths of his classmates. Marge commiserates by tossing the cliché, “Kids can be so cruel.” Bart is walking by, overhears and exclaims with delight, “We can!?” His eyes light up as he, now having mom’s permission, makes plans. At first viewing, I laughed because Marge did not intend to give Bart permission to be cruel. Right? Upon reflection, I am not so sure.
There’s a big uproar in conservative circles about those progressive liberals threatening to teach children empathy, diversity and acceptance. THAT is the job of family and church, DABNABBIT!! But have the conservative Christians done their job? Do we have a society in which the tipping majority is empathetic and accepting of people who are not mirror images of the majority? No, we don’t. Why? Because we have not only given children permission to be cruel, we allow ourselves to be cruel. Sure, adults are more subtle and make sure they have the approval of those in power before speaking and acting cruelly, but if you want to know the innermost thoughts of grownups, visit a playground where their children are shouting those thoughts.
Sometime after WWII, Japan added Empathy to the elementary curriculum. “If you lost your favorite toy and someone found it and kept it, how would you feel?” When these children become adults who find wallets, there is no temptation to keep it. The Lost-and-Found warehouse in Tokyo became so crowded—a second warehouse had to be erected. A person who leaves a wallet on a Japanese subway seat has an over 90% chance of getting it back. While I think most conservative Christians would not keep a found wallet, their social record is far less stellar.
While watching a documentary of the Civil Rights’ Movement, I decided there is plenty this country need not “conserve” or restore. I watched video footage of a GIRL who was doing nothing more than walking to SCHOOL. Grown white women, holding tiny coffins with black baby dolls, yelled hateful and awful things at the girl. The faces of these racists were gnarled with hate. These were women who looked like ordinary cracker moms, grandmothers and aunts, but a more unattractive lot is unimaginable. What were these coffin-holding witches trying to conserve? What did that small, primly-dressed girl threaten that she deserved such an attack? My hope for this nation is that we have progressed past whatever compelled these women to erect tiny coffins and shout like banshees at an innocent child.
On the topic of torture, my hope fades. I have argued with conservatives Christians about whether or not we should be torturing anybody. Naively, I believe torture is not a legitimate debate topic. How can a person professing to follow the Prince of Peace, condone torture? If they arrived at their pro-torture stance by asking what their Lord and Savior would do/support, or by following said Lord and Savior’s Golden Rule, then what reflection of CHRISTianity are these folks? What Christ is this that sanctions unconstitutional and undeclared wars, demands detaining and torturing of uncharged suspects and then insists upon the sacrifice of liberty and privacy for the promise of security?
In 1986, while in Germany , I met a man who was delighted to learn I am from Texas . He had spent time near Dallas —as a prisoner of war! It was one of his fondest memories. In Texas , we had treated him better than his compatriots. During WWII, we EARNED the world’s fondness, like that of the German P.O.W. That fondness blessed the US for over two generations. As uncharged Gitmo detainees and their friends and families share stories about experiences suffered at our God-blessed and super-powerful hands, what reverberating message will my grandchildren meet in their travels? Will my grandchildren even be able to travel?
It is not the Patriot Act’s slaughter of the Bill of Rights that secures my grandchildren. Living with principles, dignity and EMPATHY is the only way we can be truly secure. Just as empathy, the Golden Rule, teaches a society that a found wallet does NOT belong to the finder, it teaches us that is never okay to treat humans inhumanely. Children MAY NOT be so cruel!