I don’t spend a lot of time bemoaning the state of the world. As overwhelming as the news can be, I believe that the world is a good place worth bringing children into.
That is not to say I am immune to fear.
I worry about climate change and the growing power of ISIS. Like the rest of the world, I saw those babies’ lifeless bodies on the shores of Turkey and thought, “How could things have gotten this bad? What kind of world are we leaving to our children?”
Yet, there is an undercurrent of fear I’ve noticed when people discuss the problems plaguing our planet and its people. I’ve noticed it when people talk about the refugee crisis in Europe. I’ve noticed it when people talk about Kim Davis. I’ve noticed it when people talk about the Black Lives Matter movement.
Then, as I listened to an episode of This American Life, it hit home.
Entitled “The Problem We All Live With”, the episode examines failing inner city schools and the one solution that has worked.
Nikole Hannah-Jones, an investigative reporter The New York Times, has spent her career reporting on failing schools and has seen integrating schools work. She shared the story of the Normandy school district outside St. Louis, MO. The school district Michael Brown graduated from before he was killed in Ferguson.
That same year the district lost its accreditation. Students could chose to travel 30 miles to the predominantly white middles class school district of Francis Howell. This American Life shared the audio recordings of the Francis Howell school board meeting, where parents shared their “concerns” over the integration. It made me sick to my stomach.
Here’s the transcript:
It’s there. It’s in every statement.
Us v. Them. The poor kids. The black kids. The immigrant kids. The refugee kids. The kids of gay parents or gay kids themselves.
THEY ARE NOT MY PROBLEM. All that matters is that my child has the best. All that matters is that my kid’s life is safe and clean and perfect.
We all want what is best for our children BUT…
I don’t want my children to just have a better life. I want my children to live in a better WORLD.
Because my children - your children - live in the WORLD. No man is an island, even if that man is a little man with a very, very protective mom with plenty of resources.
If the neighborhood across town is filled with black and brown children suffering under the burden of poverty and racism, that matters to your kids. If families thousands of miles away are risking everything to escape civil war, that matters to your kids. If the children of gay parents see their family derided and condemned, that matters to your kids.
The first thing to remember is it’s not you NOW.
As Glennon of Momastery masterfully put it, "Let us all quit acting like we have anything to do with the fact that we were lucky enough to have been born on third base, while millions are starving outside the stadium."
You’re safe in the stadium NOW, but that might not always be the case. Most of us live within a small margin of error. An illness or job loss or natural disaster could change everything we know to be true very, very quickly and then it will matter how others respond to your suffering.
Suffering is not a character flaw. I understand that it makes all of us deeply uncomfortable. To see other’s suffering is to tap a deep vein of vulnerability. We don’t really want to wonder “What if that was us?”
However, it could be us and - even if it NEVER is - it still matters.
Because the problems of poverty and racism and war will affect our children one way or another because they affect EVERYTHING. They affect the economy and the crime rate and our education system and they will touch in small ways and large every aspect of our children's existence.
Also, I have faith in our children. I have faith that these little people we are raising are up to the challenge. That - if we let them - they can learn how to deal with difference and change and even suffering.
That, by exposing them to the real problems facing all of us, they might even be the solutions.
But, we have to teach them there is no us... no them... only WE.