I’ve never met you, and for that reason I hesitated to write this. But it occurred to me that the people who think they have some business criticizing you have also never met you, and something inside me hates the idea that they would claim the right to speak while I remain silent.
I just read this Guardian article, and it left me appalled and sad. I’m sure other people have told you this, but I need to say it too:
You did not deserve this treatment.
You did nothing wrong.
If you’ll forgive me for being so forward, your hair is beautiful and you should wear it however you’d like.
The people who attacked you are small, pathetic creatures who try to tear down and destroy anything they personally cannot achieve. They may have targeted specific aspects of your behavior, but if they hadn’t found that, they would have found something else. The best of them are just tabloid-level hacks trying to leech an instant of your global relevance for themselves.
But the worst of them are the sick, hatred-filled trolls whose only source of joy is wounding others. These miserable excuses for human beings do not understand what makes America great. They do not understand that our strength is in our diversity and our freedom of expression. They know two things—hate and fear—and they lash out with them like savages cowering behind rocks. To be frank, you’re in rather esteemed company by becoming their target. You may not remember, but when you were 11, a presidential candidate by the name of Barack Obama came under similar fire.
If these people hate you, it means you are doing something right.
I have spent the last week feeling a deep sense of pride in America’s Women’s Olympics team—your team. My wife and I have called the kids in from other rooms to watch you and your teammates perform. Your team’s story is an amazing one. It inspires not only admiration for hard work and perseverance, but pride in what America is: the best of the best, regardless of skin color or belief or hair style. All are welcome, as long as they bring it. (And wow, did you bring it.)
The haters reject this idea of America, and by being there and being so powerful and graceful and beautiful, you spit in their eye.
It kills me that they got under your skin on Sunday, and I’m truly sorry that happened. As haters of everything America stands for, I’m sure they counted it as a victory. They are happy when America fails. They are overjoyed when they can ruin something good.
But the inspiration you’ve brought to millions of people—not only American but around the world—isn’t undone so easily. You’re a hero to countless children of all skin colors, and just by getting there you have done far more damage to the haters’ agenda than their words can ever do to you.
The good news is that these troglodytes are losing. They’ve crawled out from under their rocks lately, egged on by an exaggerated sense of their own numbers due to the internet and certain exceptionally loud voices, but they are NOT the majority. Every time we speak, we force them back. Every time we show them what the true America can do, we force them back. Their constant and increasing attacks are not a sign of strength—they are a sign of desperation.
Thank you for winning a crucial victory in a battle you never signed up for.
Thank you for representing your country so well.
I’m proud of you.
So you may have heard about these emails that Russian hackers got ahold of and released to Wikileaks. I see some Sanders supporters claiming they’re proof of a “rigged election” and some Clinton supporters claiming they really don’t matter, but this post isn’t about my opinion in that regard. This post is about one particular line of attack laid out in the emails—namely, a proposal to attack Bernie Sanders for his suspected atheism—and why I am so happy to see it.
Here’s the quote (from ABC News link above):
“It may make no difference but for KY and WA can we get someone to ask his belief,” Brad Marshall, CFO of the DNC, wrote in an email on May 5, 2016. “He had skated on having a Jewish heritage. I read he is an atheist. This could make several points difference with my peeps. My Southern Baptist peeps would draw a big difference between a Jew and an atheist.”
So. The DNC considered trying to label Sanders an atheist, on the assumption that such a label would really hurt him in Kentucky and Washington. As an atheist, shouldn’t I be outraged? Shouldn’t I be marching and chanting and trying to shut down the National Convention?
Absolutely not. I’m happy. Thrilled, in fact. Why? Because they discussed this tactic, and didn’t do it. Someone at the DNC said no.
This Brad Marshall is the CFO there. That’s no small position. I assume he commands some respect and bends plenty of ears. But either someone higher up shut the idea down, or someone with a cooler head persuaded him out of the idea. Either way, the strategy died in his Out Box.
This is an absolute, abject win for atheists and a resounding affirmation of my plan to vote blue in November. Marshall is probably right: labeling a candidate as an atheist probably would bring down his support, particularly in the South. Atheists are the country’s punching bag: it’s a free hit, everyone can take a turn! From that standpoint, it was a sound, if ruthless, political strategy. The Republicans wouldn’t have hesitated to employ it against Sanders or any other candidate. To them, atheist is a dirty word, dirtier than gay, black, or even (gasp!) Muslim—at least in politics. Ten years ago, the same would’ve been true of the Democrats. I can’t remember a time in the past when they’ve hesitated to slam someone for their secularism.
But they did this time.
Why? Is it because they’ve had a change of heart? They’ve taken on a greater interest in the secular cause? Is it maybe because they realized nearly 23% of Americans now have no religious affiliation, and a lot of ’em are probably progressives?
I don’t know the reason and likely never will, but the optimist in me can’t help taking a great deal of heart from their decision. Secretly I hope it was because some number of the high-ranking muckety-mucks in the DNC are atheists themselves.
Whatever the reason, they refrained—and for all the 23% of Americans who may have been slighted by such an attack, regardless of political stripe or social status, that can only be good news.
Dandelions are our constant enemy in the back yard, you know, a nice suburban lawn is not supposed to have a bunch of weeds all over it. Last weekend my wife and I mowed and put down a layer of weed’n’feed in the hopes of never seeing one at our new place.
Yesterday my little girl told me it was a wonderful day. When I asked her why, she said, “Because we have our first dandelion at our new house!” Looking outside I saw that we did, indeed, and my daughter was thrilled to see it.
It triggers a bunch of questions, of course, like who determines beauty, what do people have against yellow, what makes one plant a “flower” and another a “weed” – but the biggest one for me is:
What would we do without children constantly renewing the world? How grey would everything be without their brand-new takes on things? With time everything becomes dismal and faded; there is always a negative to find.
We need youth; we need their perspective. It’s not just a reminder that beauty is relative – it’s a reminder that AGE is relative. “Everything old is new again.” The world still IS wonderful and beautiful and awe-inspiring, it’s just that sometimes, we need to share a fresh view in order to see it.
A full-throated defense of instilling drive in our children.
There’s a growing trend in parenting, and it really bugs me. That trend is “Don’t tell your kids they can be anything.” For a little example, take a look at this opinion piece in The Washington Post by clinical psychologist, parent educator, and mother of two, Erica Reischer.
The argument goes that no given kid can be anything they want, so we should stop telling them they can. Ms. Reischer’s piece claims that children who strive toward a dream get hurt in the long run (though none of the so-called “evidence” for this claim is actually relevant), and that chance plays a much larger factor in most success stories than skill or hard work.
Strangely, Ms. Reischer seems to stop short of explaining to us what we should be telling our kids. “Don’t work hard, it’s all up to chance?” Or perhaps, “Don’t aim high, it will be damaging to your psyche?”
Of course no child can be everything. Of course most children won’t grow up to be astronauts or Supreme Court justices. But since when did unvarnished truth become the best way to raise children?
This trend infuriates me, because it always comes from a bunch of adults who think they have to “adult-splain” the world to kids. The world is different for kids. They don’t understand how it works. They are just learning. My six-year-old wanted to be an astronaut. She also wants to be a ninja, a teacher, and a McDonald’s employee. Apparently I am supposed to tell her, “There are no ninjas anymore, you’ll never be an astronaut because most people aren’t, and teachers and McDonald’s employees are underpaid.”
Here are my main issues with this point of view:
1) Where do you draw the line?
News flash: astronauts exist. So do presidents, ambassadors, best-selling authors, world-famous pop stars, and Really Good Sportsers.
Actually, so do senators, and state representatives, and college coaches and not-bestselling-but-still-quite-fulfilled-thank-you-very-much authors, musicians, and game designers.
As do city council members, community organizers, local high school debate coaches, and cover bands.
Do you see what I’m getting at here? Why only cut off the top tier? As long as we’re telling our children precisely what they can’t be, why not try to nail it down a little further?
“Timmy, you can’t be a Supreme Court justice. That’s just not in the cards for most people. Even an appointee to a federal bench is honestly a long shot. State court? Maaaaybe, but probably not. Most people don’t do that either. Instead of hearing cases, you could present them. They always need public defenders, but the budget really isn’t there for them and I hear the job sucks, and obviously being a high-powered corporate attorney is out the window because most people don’t do that either. You know what, maybe you should just forget the entire legal system. It’s just not for you. Now go brush your teeth and get ready for bed.”
Furthermore, what seems unachievable in one home will seem like the only possibility in another. Eliminating the idea that kids can be anything they want to be means incrementally normalizing the idea that kids should be what their parents want them to be. Most parents already put enough pressure on their kids in this direction, but the idea that kids should have no limits on their aspirations currently serves to combat it. Once we as a society decide kids shouldn’t be “lied to” any more about their odds, why not take that conversation to the next step?
“You know, Timmy, Daddy’s always been a project manager. That’s a nice, reasonable job to aim for with a decent salary. Obviously it’s something you can achieve, because it’s something I achieved, and I’m incapable of looking beyond my own personal experience when deciding what you should do when you grow up.”
2) Who the hell are we?
How do we know what our kids are going to be when they grow up, and who gave us the right to tell them what they can and can’t do? We don’t know the future. We only know the odds.
I can tell my daughter, “There are no ninjas,” but do I really know that? The kid has a serious knack for hiding and sneaking into rooms undetected. There are professions where that kind of skill can be handy. (Unless being spec ops is aiming too high. Maybe a cop? Can she be a cop? Maybe that’s aiming too high, too. Is PI okay?)
Did Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s parents believe she would be a Supreme Court justice (and a damned good one, at that)? Doubtful. If she’d mentioned it as a young child (which she probably didn’t) and they’d told her to aim lower, wouldn’t they have looked like small-minded idiots?
3) Kids don’t differentiate
Like I said, my daughter considered McDonald’s worker, astronaut, and ninja all to be completely interchangeable and perfectly valid life goals. If I tell her she won’t be an astronaut and to start aiming lower, she has no context for that. She doesn’t understand what “aiming lower” means. She doesn’t consider McDonald’s employee to be “lower.” She understands it’s different, but not that it pays less or requires less skill and is therefore more achievable, nor should she.
So her takeaway message is simple: “I can’t.”
Daddy said I can’t do the thing I wanted to do. He had reasons, but I’m six, and my main takeaway is that I can’t do what I want to do.
This is a kick in the teeth to the development process. The message is: Stop aspiring. Stop planning. Stop acting like such a child.
4) You must aim high
This is an obvious one, so obvious that it floors me that people don’t think of it and automatically short-circuit this asinine argument on their own. Yes, it’s true: you will rarely hit your goal.
BUT THE HIGHER YOU AIM, THE HIGHER YOU HIT.
This is a simple lesson that a six-year-old can understand. If you aim for the stars, you might hit the stars. But if you don’t, you may hit the moon, or at least the top of the next tree over. Both are better than landing in the dirt, which is what will happen if you start by aiming for the top of the tree. And if you start by aiming at the dirt, or not aiming at all, you’ll most likely fall flat on your face.
My children don’t need to know that I’m trying to set them up to fly as far as they can by letting them aim as high as they want. If they miss their mark (as most people do), at least they’ll have taken the shot, and despite Ms. Reischer’s insistence that goals are bad for us, they will be better human beings for having made the attempt.
If my daughter doesn’t get to be the President of These United States, I bet you her interest therein will result in an adult that’s well-rounded, informed about politics, and an excellent civil citizen. That’s a pretty nice bar to clear, and if she ends up in law or a political career of any kind because of her interest in the path toward the presidency, I’d say she did pretty well for herself.
When I was a kid, I wanted to be an astronaut. Then I wanted to make movies, then I wanted to make video games. I wrote out lots of video games in notebooks. My interest in this passion drove me to learn computer programming, a skill which I used to great effect during my time in corporate America and in my independent pursuits. It also drove me to write pen-and-paper game systems, lots of them, many of which I have played with my friends. It has become a lifelong hobby that has brought me thousands of hours of excitement and enjoyment. I have never sold one of these games, nor even tried. No, I never became a video game designer, but to this day I feel pretty confident that I could’ve (and probably still could, if I wanted to).
If my mother had told me, “You’re aiming too high. Most people don’t get to become video game designers, Adam. Aim lower,” it might have stripped me of one of the most precious hobbies I have.
5) Exploration is part of development
It is normal for kids to lurch around from interest to interest, trying them all, and to fantasize about what they could achieve within the realm of each. It is healthy. It is necessary. There is no need for a parent to gum up the works by inserting their perspective into the process. We keep that crap to ourselves because our kids need to explore—not get shut down.
6) Kids will enter the School of Hard Knocks soon enough
And the horrible, sad truth is, they are so easy to shut down. The world is going to chew them up and spit them out. It is not going to encourage them. It is not going to tell them they can do it. That voice needs to come from within them, or it won’t come at all.
But guess what? That internal voice isn’t theirs. As parents, we are our kids’ internal voices. Ours are the words of support or despair that they hear in their hearts when the world gets rough.
We have those first few, precious years to get them ready for a life of beatings. The message doesn’t need to be deeply nuanced. It’s actually pretty simple: “Yes, it will be hard. Yes, it will take a lot of work. But you can do it. I believe in you.”
Those early years with my mom, she was constantly propping me up, constantly telling me I could do anything. It gave me enough self-esteem to weather a lot of crap. She is still a wellspring of that support today. When she tells me she believes in me, it is like gassing up at the station before diving back in to the endless, brutal road trip of the universe.
Of course our kids need to know that hard work matters. Of course they need to know that we’ll be proud of them and love them whether they hit those stars or just skim the treetops. And of course, if they don’t eventually realize it on their own, we can help them understand that chance also plays a role.
But without that core of confidence, they will have no strength to make it through the first round of pummelings that the world sends their way. Infuse them with strength. Start them off powerful, so after the world has worn them down, there is still something there.
Tell them they can be anything. Let them try everything.
They will find something wonderful.