OMG. SMH. WTF. Text-speak acronyms are so inadequate to characterize the level of my disappointment. I know, I know… rule #1 of the internet is DON’T READ THE INTERNET. At least don’t read the comments, the place where the dredges of humanity hide and spew vile attacks on people they don’t know. But I did read them, and I was livid. My first instinct was to write back: HOW DARE YOU. HOW %#&#% DARE YOU! We are talking about scared, persecuted, cold, and hungry children. CHILDREN!
I didn’t write back, though, because experience has taught me that engaging with ignorance doesn’t get me anywhere. Instead, I thought about who the vitriolic people are, and what their lives must be like. I tried to practice empathy, and I engaged in some introspection. This is what I figure....
We’re all born blank slates. Babies don’t hate. Babies don’t understand the social meanings of gender, skin color, or religion. Babies want to be handled gently. They want to be spoken to kindly. Babies want to be warm. Babies want to be fed. Babies want to feel safe. In fact, regardless of age, we all want those things. When those things are denied to us, we harden.
As children grow, they have hundreds of encounters with adults. Adults that nurture (or not). Adults that appropriately express love (or don’t). Adults that provide (or withhold). Adults that guide (or mislead). Adults that attempt to heal (or permit suffering). Parents, teachers, preachers, doctors, neighbors, aunts and uncles, child care providers, coaches, friends… all adults are capable of profoundly impacting the trajectory of a child’s life for both good and evil.
So going back to the hateful internet trolls, this is my revelation. Every one of the people who chose to broadcast scorn on Facebook entered this world as an innocent. Every single one of them was born hoping for the world to write love on their life, and somewhere along the line they received hatred instead. The adults that failed them (probably multiple adults, over and over and over again) are the wellspring of their malice.
I’m not a child-rearing expert, and I’m not going to pretend that I know how to raise or to teach a child the “right” way. But it doesn’t take an expert to know that children learn from their interactions with adults, and that some interactions are toxic. Some messages are poison.
As I’ve gotten older and become a parent, I’ve come to realize that I operate within fairly straightforward parameters. For me, there’s a line in the sand. On one side are actions that are conducive to healthy, well-adjusted, and capable children. On the other side are actions that are harmful, soul-crushing, and debilitating for children. But truth be told, no one is perfect. Even the most conscientious among us may sometimes find ourselves walking into dark and dangerous territory.
My goal is to be mindful of when I’m toeing that line, and I hope that you’ll be mindful too. Sometimes this requires doing things that are completely new – like advocating for refugee children half a world away. Sometimes this requires paying close attention – like noticing when a sharp tone or raised voice leads to little eyes being averted and little shoulders slumping. It is hard work, and it is easy to be discouraged, but we have to try. The internet trolls may veil their vitriol in language about preserving our “way of life,” but the only way that we’ll have a bright future is if we raise children capable of bearing a beacon forward. After all, we all know that light will turn a troll to stone.