belief · faith · parenting · thoughts

The case for speech

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When I tell people we homeschool, I can usually detect that “oh no, here’s another group of Christian weirdos who don’t want their kids to socialize with the rest of us” vibe that comes with the territory. Yes- we are people of pretty deep and convicted faith, and yes, we are uber-libertarians who don’t want the government to have any say in the upbringing of our children (read into that what you like), and both of those contribute to our desire to educate our children at home. But the big reason (and I’m oversimplifying this a bit for the sake of this post), and the one that usually surprises people, is that we have ZERO interest in sheltering our children from the world, and 100% interest in helping them to experience the world. We actually do want them to see and experience this beautiful, crazy, and sometimes ugly world as part of their education.

He’s contemplating whether or not we should call farm animals “non-urban agrarian quadrupeds” to be more accepting.

As I look at those experiences and craft my own approach to integrate my children into the world around us, I’m still amazed by just how much attention hate speech generates. If there’s one post on my Facebook feed about the “offensive item of the moment” there are a thousand. At this point I think we can all find something out there that offends us without looking to hard. We all have our own take here- #blacklivesmatter, #bluelivesmatter, #alllivesmatter; #shoutyourabortion, #shoutyouradoption; we’re going to be fired up about something in the vast expanse between vaccines and breastfeeding to marriage and gender equality. We all know what side we stand on with the issues that matter to us, and quite honestly, while I love you guys as my readers, I genuinely do not care which side you take on any of this stuff. I’ll be reading and researching and formulating my own opinions based on my life experience, the season of life my family is in, and the information at hand, and I’m sure (at least I’m 100% hopeful) that you are doing the same. I am only a newcomer to social media- I have only been on FB for about 7 months, and was largely sheltered from the vitriol that is internet commentary for quite some time, so I’m watching these latest “controversies” unfold with wide-eyed excitement. The ability to hide behind a computer-screen while spewing out hateful diatribes is legitimately a powerful thing. I don’t typically post on controversial issues because I don’t want to invite the online nasty-vibes to drift in my general direction.

But here’s the thing. Hate is real. I remember the first time someone said something genuinely hateful to me. It burned itself into my soul, and I will never forget it. I was in sixth grade, hanging out with my friends, and a neighborhood boy pointed me out to his other friends as “the ugly one.” Oh friends. Even now, after fighting tooth and nail to be taken seriously for my brain and not my other…assets, I will always subconsciously ask myself if, among all these other humans, “am I the ugly one?” Such a small little sign of hate, but for a sixth-grade girl, that was damaging talk. Since then, I’ve endured an awful lot more- I overheard people in my small town after I got pregnant as an unmarried teenager, “well I guess Little Miss Perfect isn’t so perfect after all,” as well as several other significantly more graphic and bothersome little zingers that knocked me down a few pegs to say the very least. I’ll never forget when a supercool hipster girl and her squad saw me walking in downtown Athens with Celia and her safety backpack (also known as a kiddie leash) shouted all passive-aggressive “why do parents degrade their children by walking them on leashes???” In that instance, I may have shouted back “because they have autism and could potentially run into traffic YOU IGNORANT TROLL!!!” Eh, even I lose my cool from time to time. And then there was the time I joined in an online forum to help convert a local vacant city-owned building into a center for special-needs activities, and saw the comment “do we really need one more place for retarded people to hang out???” Friends, I’m with you. When I hear stuff like this, there’s one particular feeling that rises in me above all others: hate. In those moments, my anger and hatred for feeling the way I felt- belittled, degraded, misjudged, you get it- helped me stand stronger in what it is that I believe in.

In case you’re not tired of all the Starbucks whatever (and I’m still convinced it’s just brilliant marketing by Starbucks), here’s an actually fantastic video from a priest who gets that we’ve got to stop defining ourselves by what we hate and start defining ourselves by what we love. (Thanks Krista for sharing with me!) But stay tuned…because this post isn’t really about that.

You know all those poignant posts and images of the white child reaching out and holding hands with a black man in the subway, that say things like “hate isn’t born, it’s learned,” or something like that? Those touch my heart too. And I can guarantee you that my children would hug the homeless man who hangs out at our library with the same gusto that they hug our church nursery team. But kids do know what hate is. If you follow my blog, you may be as appalled as I am that one of my children hates vegetables. In an epic attempt to study nature vs. nurture, I asked her what she hates, and she hates vegetables. So we explored that a little. Vegetables are a pretty big demographic in the food world. It’s a pretty bold statement to hate all vegetables. Peas are vegetables- do you hate peas? No. Sweet potatoes are vegetables- do you hate sweet potatoes? No. Corn is a vegetable- do you hate corn? No. And we went on and on until we finally determined that she likes steamed, lightly-seasoned vegetables, but dislikes both raw and overcooked, rubbery ones. In that discussion, we decided that hate is a totally acceptable word, and that we will reserve it for certain things about which we feel very strongly.

I thought about that. I hate some things. I hate when people cut me off in traffic. I hate how I only remember discounts after they expire. I hate pickles (because an embalmed vegetable is not a real vegetable). On a more serious note- I hate racism, sexism, chauvinism, and bigotry. I hate elitism and the fact that the haves have so much and the have-nots have so little. I hate that there are people suffering for things over which they have zero control. I hate that the very-small minority of unaccepting, unloving Christians are the symbol the world thinks of when they think of our faith. And I hate that we live in a world where our media can spin all of that in whatever direction will sell more views, likes, and shares. So let me take this in a different direction:

Here we are, listening to two violently opposed sides do verbal, non-violent battle in Speaker Square at Hyde Park.

Those people who spew hate, in all their ignorance and attention-seeking, those trolls, who get sadistic pleasure from stirring the pot and letting two sides of deeply-rooted issues get into emotional warfare? They have rights. Yes, I’m talking about all the hateful stuff that’s been said at Mizzou, all the anti-gay protests during Pride week, and all the other completely incendiary things that people say in a genuine spirit of hatred. I hate what they say, you guys, but I will absolutely defend their right to say it. I’m going to borrow a quote from Myles Jackman, who is a UK-based attorney who specializes in sexual-liberties and obscenity rights, in saying that hate speech and obscenity are “the canaries in the coal mine of free speech.” It’s true. I would love to throat-punch anyone who had something hateful to say about my African American friends, or my gay and transgender friends, or my special-needs child who was conceived out of wedlock. But I will not ask for their words to be outlawed. The patriotic American in me believes that our dedication to the freedoms promised in our constitution is best measured by our willingness to protect those of groups with whom we most vehemently disagree. It sucks. And yes, I know what I’m saying here. There’s a lot that I’m not going into- and if you’re in the mood to read what inspired this (ages ago) follow this link to an article about freedom of speech in the world of pornography. The things that people say- and they say some pretty seriously ugly stuff- is genuinely hurtful. And that hurt doesn’t go away.

And here’s my sheltered homeschooler, holding a poster for a church fundraiser to help imprisoned kids in Uganda. A really heavy story of some pretty serious subject matter, which she heard about. From us. Because in a world where we learn about the prevalence of hate, love still wins.

Which brings me back to homeschooling. Have you read Lois Lowry’s The Giver? I remember hearing that it was once a banned book, which shocks me, since it was required reading for me as a seventh grader, and also inspires me for the same reason. I highly recommend you revisit it as the media tailspin around us reminds us how wrong it is for each of us to be offended, and how someone MUST do something about it. In case you don’t remember, the entire premise of the story is that taking away bad emotions also means removing good ones. The times in my life when I’ve felt the most hated also showed me who truly loved me, and taught me to cling to the truth I know about myself. The person calling my sweet baby “retarded” forced us to confront an ugly stereotype- to decide that intellectual ability is determined by an awful lot of factors, not just outward behaviors, and that intelligence is a very small part of a person’s overall ability to contribute to the world. Talking to my daughters about why an anti-abortion protester has fake blood smeared all over her poster helped us confront the fact that changing the world doesn’t have to take place by way of shock-value, but some people will always believe in that method anyway. **And yes, there’s a difference between hate speech and harassment, and I’m not going there today.**

The fact that we homeschool does shelter our children from some hateful speech- and I am very happy with that benefit. I love my children so much, but some day, someone, if not many people, will hate them. For being different, or not different enough. For being women or men, for being from affluence or not enough affluence, for what they do or don’t believe, or for no reason at all. I can’t shelter them forever- and censorship is an attempt to do just that. Our approach is to equip them to know in the face of hate what it is that enables them to love. Not to be diverted from hate, but to look it in the eye and defy it. Being around our kids that much more enables us to talk through what they see when they see it- anti-domestic violence commercials, the anti-abortion/pro-choice stuff online and on the radio, articles about marriage equality, and bumper stickers about religious tolerance. All of those things that they will have to confront one day or another, and that may play a huge role in who they are. So one day, when they’re in college around a bunch of drunken morons spewing a mess of racist or sexist garbage, or when fanatical professors or student groups project their perceptions onto entire demographics without merit, they can take a stand in marked deference from people who think like that. So they can see that people who think that way get fired from good jobs, miss out on great opportunities, or have struggles with relationships, and can’t find success in the long run in one form or another. Not because their ignorance was outlawed, but because sensible people like us and like you won’t contribute our time, our money, or other patronage to individuals who participate in that foolishness. I want my children to change the world, not live in one that was changed for them. Choice is a powerful thing- some people will choose hate (and sometimes we will be the haters), but the majority of us will choose love (even when it’s hard). And we should. Let’s not be defined by what we hate. And let’s not let the fear of what haters have to say keep us from experiencing life in its fullness.

(And in case you can’t see the video below- it’s some pretty amazing people, not fighting or shouting hateful things, but holding up giant flowers to block hateful posters during Pride week. Which is amazing. Love wins.)

xoxo~ LWH

2 thoughts on “The case for speech

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