I’m reading Tim Wise’s recently updated edition of White Like Me: Reflections On Race From A Privileged Son. Within, Wise recounts a tale of the Christian organization Young Life being promoted by and allowed to evangelize within his public school. The 12-year old Wise walks out of the group’s presentation in protest and stands up against the school’s principal when he is stopped outside.
Wise puts the credit for his defiance not in his own bravery, but in the preparations for life taught by his parents. He challenged the misconduct of his school and his principal because he was raised to know that’s what one does in that situation. In his own words: “My parents were letting me know that injustice happens, and they wouldn’t stand for it. And that I shouldn’t either.”
Though his tale was a small piece of a larger (and very important) discussion on race, what struck me was his parents ability to instill in him the value that authority figures participating in wrong no longer have authority and should be challenged. Though I believe (and hope) that most would find it difficult to argue against the above statement, it is another thing entirely to impress that belief upon a child, a child in a culture that often teaches everything to the contrary. We are taught always to respect authority. We are taught always to uphold the norm. We are taught always to avoid creating a wave in the waters of society.
How then, do we teach the complicated fact that, sometimes, we have to leave behind the values that maintain the societal structure when they conflict with larger values of right and wrong?
And, more to my point, how, in my own potential future children, do I instill this and other values I deem important?
I have no answer. I’m sure it involves a combination of leading by example, discussing with your child, and doing a large amount of hoping that it all makes some kind of impact. But before I can do any of that very well, I need to know: what do I want to teach my child? And am I living by those values myself?
So I’ll be keeping a list. When the days of parenting come my way, it will serve as a reminder.
I believe the above serves as a fine Lesson 1.