The Children are Watching

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I’ve been working for the United States Census Bureau this summer, interviewing home occupants for the American Housing Survey.

Occasionally, I get a person who is rude and shuts the door on me. One guy threatened to call the police, which actually is funny because I’m not soliciting – I’m with the government – and the police would tell him as much. Another said he was calling his lawyer but then ended up making me coffee. I seem to have success with folks who previously said no to another field rep. Maybe because I’m nice. Because I’m genuinely grateful for their participation. Because I really do believe that every person makes a difference. Bottom line, I enjoy this job.

Last week I was in Edmond, a suburb of Oklahoma City. While this is not where I’d want to live (for a variety of reasons), my encounters have been mostly good. I’ve seen the occasional Trump flag and many “Stand Up for America” lawn signs, which I suspect means something different to those homeowners than it does to me. I’ve also seen a number of “In this house, we believe… black lives matter, science is real, love is love, etc.” lawn signs. These always make me happy. Then, yesterday morning I saw this:

I took this photo from a distance, deliberately obscuring it a bit to soften the blow. And then I watched a man drive up, park in the carport, and walk into the house with a young boy, maybe 5 or 6 years old. The man was probably in his 30’s.

This language, this anger, this hate. This is what that young boy is exposed to daily. Admittedly, I’ve been known to drop the F-bomb, though always for emphasis, for color, and always as an adjective. And when around children, I curb my tongue. Most responsible adults do. But to use this as a verb! That’s another thing entirely. As a verb, it is violent.

What makes a person hang a flag like this? Pro-Trump flags are one thing, but this – this is something altogether different.

This flag hurts. This flag is intended to hurt. This flag is violent.

We are already so divided. How do we come together, how do we even have a conversation when one side speaks in such language? How do we talk to someone carrying a gun in a crowd or ripping a face mask off a teacher? Someone who screams about their rights while ignoring the rights of others?

I keep thinking about the 2001 documentary Promises that looked at the Israeli-Palestinian conflict through the eyes and lives of children – Israeli, Palestinian, and Jewish. Seven children filmed over four years who decide to meet and try to understand the other’s experience. It’s a powerful film and was nominated for an Academy Award.

(Click here to watch the trailer. You can also rent the film on Vimeo for $3.99.)

Did these children affect a change in the conflict? Perhaps not. But certainly, a change happened within each of them. They are part of a generation that is changing the world. The generation that doesn’t care about gender constraints or who one loves or marries. The generation that does care about the environment and social justice.

But the little boy that I saw walk under that awful flag and into the house with the man who probably hung it… is he part of that generation? Or is he a new generation, one that will swing us backward, away from liberation, justice, and freedom? Away from love, respect, and kindness. Maybe. Maybe not.

Soon after seeing that disturbing flag, I turned a corner and saw this.

Clearly a response to the Covid19 pandemic, reminding me of the many Andra’ Tutto Bene (everything will be alright) signs throughout Italy during the Covid lockdown last spring.

Hope & Love. #AloneTogether.  If only this hashtag had caught on in the States as much as Andre Tutto Bene had in Italy.

Children are watching. They are always watching. They are sponges. They take in everything. They mimic adults – their parents first, yes, but also others.

May we each be careful with our words. Thoughtful in the things we write and in the things we say. Conscious of our actions. May we be patient, gentle, kind, while firm in our boundaries. Love is strength. Love trumps hate. We must live in love.  As the garage door says, Hope & Love, #AloneTogether.

Because …

the children are watching all of us. Even when we are divided, we are still a large village raising our young.