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Sunday, March 30, 2008

The Righteous Anger of a Child

I strongly believe that we not only pass on our genetic heritage to our children, but also our intellectual heritage as well. We share our experiences, the lessons we learn, and our moral values with them because we hope that this information will serve them and help keep them safe.

Therefore, an important part of the information we pass on to our children involves how to interact with others in a sustainable manner that not only enhances their own chances of survival, but also encourages the continuation of the social structures that we rely on as a species to improve our odds of survival and help us flourish as individuals.

A big part of the moral heritage I try to pass on to my children is based on a fairly simple assumption… that no one person is more human than another, thus all deserve equal respect and should be treated as you yourself wish to be treated. It always seems such a simple rule but is quite versatile and complex once you really discuss and apply it to situations with your children. It is the rule for an efficient and sustainable society, without it’s adherence society deteriorates, as does our chances of survival as a species.

However, we’ve had problems lately, as it’s hard to explain what happens when this rule breaks down because others refuse to follow it. To the point, it has become difficult to explain to our oldest son how he should not pass judgment on all police officers because of the wrongs they have done to his father and for all the stories of abuses he sees in the news... but it became especially difficult after he overheard us talking about how the damage done to me last year was permanent and the rehabilitation would be hard for us to afford.

But, it is hard to reason away his logical response to my assurance that all officers are not bad:

“If some officers are bad, and the good officers don’t stop them, how is it safe to trust any cops at all? If I can’t trust any of them not to hurt me, then isn’t it safer for me to hate them all? After all, you trusted them to help you and they hurt you instead, and now they refuse to do anything about it and keep doing it to others. So how can it be safe not to hate them when they can get away with hurting so many people? How can I trust any of them when the good cops let the bad cops get away with hurting us?”

I try to answer by asking how he would feel if people hated him because of his skin color because someone else got hurt by someone with his skin color, but that is countered too.

"A white person doesn't choose to be white, a police officer choses to be a cop. A regular person fears punishment when they break the law, a cop doesn't."

... it ended with him storming to his room, and my inability to find a good counter to that argument.

While we were fortunate that when I was mistreated by the police that our youngest was yet to be born, our middle child too young to understand, but our oldest knew what was happening and is now inconsolable in his anger with those who hurt his father. Even though I try to convince him that he shouldn’t be, that it is not the best response for him, he still hates all cops much to my own chagrin.

But as I continue to get death threats from the police, as he reads more stories in the news on his own, and as it becomes more clear to him that we can do nothing to right the injustices done to us, our arguments and protestations now fall uselessly against his hardening heart.

Indeed… How do we explain to an angry son that even though the police harmed his father wrongly, that he should not expect the same treatment from the police himself?

…how can we tell him otherwise and yet not violate his trust in us to tell him the truth and arm him with the knowledge he needs to survive in this world?

Because he’s right, I’m afraid… even though I wish he was wrong. Because I can’t honestly tell my son to trust the police while they continue to send me death threats even when I've done nothing to deserve it. It would be disrespectful to him, a violation of the morals which I wish to instill upon him, because these morals fail us when those we entrust with protecting our society are permitted to ignore the same rules which we must follow.

I find myself in the horns of a moral dilemma in a clash between the righteous anger of a child and the morals I teach that have been violated by others without consequence… and there is no right answer I can give to his anger.

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