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Quiet Lessons on Perspective and Privilege

"I don't get it," he said.

"I don't either," I told him. "It's just the way some people think. For some reason, they think that their personal beliefs matter more than the rights of others."

"They don't."

"No, they don't."

"I thought we stopped people from hating," he said. "Remember when we had our picture taken with the duct tape on our mouths?"

"Yes," I said. "I remember."

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"That was to stop the hate. Why are people still doing it?"

"Maybe they didn't see your picture."

"I thought everyone on Facebook saw it," he said.

We were talking about the news. The story was topical and filling the headlines, and it had all been told before. It was the typical stuff of ignorance and fear, first in one state and then another—history on repeat, doomed to do exactly as it did. We had had the conversation too many times, discussions about race, poverty, gender and all of the ways that people try to justify the ugliness that unites them. He found the whole thing baffling and equally off-putting.

"It's the last gasp of backward thought," I told him. "Most people are good and kind, you know that, but all too often those that are wrong try to prove they are right. They tend to make a lot of noise in the process."

"They do make a lot of noise," he said. "Maybe they should be the ones with tape on their mouths."

He's a pretty smart kid.

I, however, had to learn my lessons the old-fashioned way growing up in a small farming community with more than its fair share of lessons to learn. I must admit that it took longer than it should have, my understanding of words and the power they hold, whispered as they were in the far corners of the living room, under the collective breath of uncles and neighbors, just out of earshot from polite company, assuming that we had any, and left to the imagination of those that cared to care. It was the pending quiet before the thundering storm, then each joke would find its reward in the boom of hard, careless laughter—punchlines bonded by the differences that separated the us from the them—and then someone else had heard a new one, which was seldom true, and the whispers would start anew, another round upon the labored breath of huddled masses. I waited my turn and I chuckled when they noticed me.

By the time I was old enough to stand there and hear the things that passed as humor, I had already decided that there was little humor in it.

"Why do people tell jokes about other people?" one of the boys had asked a long and forgotten time ago.

"Some people feel big by making others feel small," I had said, failing to add that some people deserve a crack or two, instead leaving those lessons to unfold like only the best jokes can do.

Such is the dance of perspective and privilege, the lies we tell and those we hold onto. I can't solve everything for the boys or protect them from every piece of ugliness, but I can provide them the tools to see it for what it is and to fight their battles accordingly.

"I don't get it," he said. "Why does it matter to them who somebody else loves? Love is a good thing."

"It certainly is," I agreed. "You can never have too much of a good thing."

"That's not true," he replied. "You said I had too much candy. Candy is a very good thing."

He's a pretty smart kid.

And I am still learning my lessons.

"I'm just kidding," he said. "Don't worry, Daddy, I get it."

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I watched him as he laughed a little, his smile wide and growing wider. And for one small moment, there was no worry there to speak of. I didn't say a thing.

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Image by Whit Honea

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