This ain’t tongue in cheek. Maybe it is… But, I’m not really trying to make it so.
I have a three year old and a one year old. Every day, my role as a parent is to help them realize their potential and to instill in them values and meanings so that they can become decent human beings. I’m not talking about capitalistic success or fame or athletic accomplishment. I’m talking about simple human decency.
I’m not talking about political correctness. I’m talking about basic, simple human decency.
Human decency: I attempt to explain to my daughters that no one is flawless. That means we must be forgiving and we must apologize when we make mistakes, because inevitably, we will make mistakes and folks will inevitably hurt us via mistakes. Forgiveness and apologizing for mistakes is not political correctness and it is not weakness. It is basic human decency. It is not even “religious.” If we went around the world never acknowledging our mistakes and never forgiving one another then conflict, hard feelings, and misunderstanding would follow us no matter where we went.
Human decency: I have a three-year-old and a one-year-old. They want to play with each other’s toys even when they have their own toys. They snatch toys out of each other’s hands. And as a parent, I have to instill in them the value of sharing and compromise. I don’t know about you all, but money doesn’t grow on trees and we don’t double up on too many toys. Not only that, it is important–for the sake of human decency–to let my children know that in this life, you can’t always get what you want. And also, sharing and compromise go a long way to avoiding unnecessary conflict and you also begin to learn that we can have more sustainable outcomes through cooperation rather than through domination.
Basic, human decency. My daughters didn’t ask to be born. The world was thrust upon them and they into the world. They didn’t ask to be here. And I (and the community that helps to raise them) will have the delicate and necessary task of explaining to them what “here” is, how “here” works, and how “here” should and should not work–and even while I explain these things I must always remember that I didn’t ask to be here either. But we’re here, so we have to navigate and make sense of this life as best we can. And slowly but surely, I want my daughters to understand that some are born into this world at the edge of a knife while others are born in the bed of excess. Basic, human decency admits that we didn’t get here by ourselves and damn it, that means something. Any attempt to paint human life, “success,” and salvation as self-made, individualistic, asexual reproduction is fallacious and demonic.
I could go on, but I’m afraid I’ve gotten too preachy, and well, my sermonic posts are reserved for Mondays. I could go on, but I don’t want this post to be confused with some moral agenda, cuz too many folks have fallen into the trap of thinking of meaning and values as “conservative,” “liberal,” or “moderate” and take for granted the basic stuff that allows people to sustainably coexist in the first place.
I am so very weary of politics in this country. I’m truly tired of identity worship in this country. I’m frustrated by the way violence is justified and glorified. I’m exceedingly exasperated by the historical amnesia of this place. Those things are bad enough. But I refuse to entertain any adult who doesn’t display the basic traits of human decency I’m trying to instill into my kids–whether they are in pews, classrooms, or if they’re running for president. What kind of hypocrite would I be if I teach this in the classroom, preach this behind a pulpit, raise my children in this manner, and then look for leadership–no matter the place or the capacity–that doesn’t seem to give a hot damn about what I’m asking my three-year-old to do? That’s not just this presidential election. So many of our institutions–including churches– are crumbling because folk aren’t just lacking in integrity; we lack basic human decency.
(I’m not gonna even talk about how whiteness, patriarchy, capitalism, and nationalism brilliantly coalesce into the symbol of Trump. That’s a post for another day.)
Today, I’m looking at my daughters. And Michelle Obama made some good points at the DNC, but, trust me, I’m not even on that level.
Forget America. Forget all the countries and nation states of the world. Forget black, white, and Latino, East Asian, LGBTQ, etc… Forget the contemporary ways in which human beings organize and classify and identify themselves. Forget politics economics and even religion.
I’m talking basic human decency. At the most mundane and the most extraordinary level, without this basic decency, we are doomed–because all human beings live with limits. Like Vetlesen says and as life reveals: we are dependent; we are mortal; we are vulnerable; our interpersonal relationships are frail; we will experience loneliness from time to time. It doesn’t matter what time or space we live in. These are non-negotiables of human life. Every culture, every people, every group and individual that’s ever lived has to wrestle with these non-negotiables. And some approaches are more humane and sustainable than others. Basic human decency is nothing more and nothing less than the attempt to deal with those basic human conditions in the most loving, just, and sustainable ways possible.
So, I’m not trying to raise my daughters to be a good American. I’m not even trying to raise my daughters to be “Christian,” as if an identity-markers alone can “save” them and make this world better. I (and this village) are trying to raise my daughters to act with goodness and decency in their hearts. I am raising them to be aware of the the non-negotiables of life and that they should and can respond to life with compassion, critical thinking, love, and hope. This, I believe, is what God, the Universe, and our Planet truly desires. And this is what human community needs.
Faith, Hope, and Love
©2016 M. J. Sales