• Jennifer Meliton

Our words matter. #StrongerThanHate #StrongerThanSilence #WordsForKids

Yesterday morning we were on our way to East Liberty to a magical Pittsburgh place called Construction Junction, about 5 minutes from Squirrel Hill. Ambulance and police were whizzing by us, which isn't completely unusual while driving through the city. What was jarring was the text that came from my best friend about a half-hour into our journey through the maze of antique and modern building materials. "Oh my God. Synagogue Shooting in Squirrel Hill. 8 dead." Each of those words was a violent squeeze to the heart.

Not Here.

Not our beloved Squirrel Hill.

Not our Jewish friends.

Not in worship.

Not minutes down the street.

The brain wants to make sense of things as they relate to ourselves. Mine went to my best friend's multi-ethnic Jewish family.... another best friend whose husband, a homicide detective, would be racing to the scene.... more friends who could be there.... Then it fans out to put things in context. But in what context do my neighbors here in Pittsburgh die because of their faith?

I briefly recalled learning about the Holocaust as I was growing up in the late-seventies, a relatively peaceful time. My adolescent mind then was certain that nothing like that could ever happen again. Certain. We had evolved. We understood that we are all the same. Hate like that would never exist again. It was a peaceful time.

Racing fast-forward spiral back to reality. The present. 2018.

My kids. My daughter at Kent. The kids in my life. My hundreds of kids at school......................

The news has been on all weekend. We're talking about it. The kids will have questions. My non-voting, multi-ethnic, innocent kids will look at us and what they heard this weekend will show on their faces. Those kids are looking at their parents or looking at you now and many will wonder what to say. How to even go there.

In tragic circumstances we want to talk to kids and over-explain. We usually say way more than we need to say. What we really need to do is listen and simplify.

If children learn about what happened, whether through choice or chance, ask them to speak back to you what they believe happened. Then in age appropriate terms simply break it down for them. This?

Someone with too much hate in their heart thought they could fix that hate by hurting people and some of them couldn't be saved.

That is all we need to say in this moment.

Then we need to listen and live BETTER.

Listen to their fears and reassure them that the people who love and care for them at home, school, daycare and activities all work very hard to keep them safe. At some places like school we even practice being safe.

Ask your child what we can all do to stop hate in the world. You'll be astounded. Children are so pure, their experience so limited, that they will think without the same boundaries that we have developed. Their hearts are magic. It's not until they start listening to our everyday loose lips that they start to harden and build the walls. Not all at once, of course, we hand it to them brick by brick.

In traffic when someone makes a mistake (because we never do). "Way to go @**hole.

On social media as we are "just venting." (Because we're never wrong.)

When we comment on how others are dressed. (We're straight outta Vogue.) "She looks like a total______."

Who someone is holding hands with.

When we disagree with someone. (We are always right.) "Stupid idiot."

About our friends behind their backs. (They'll never know.) "Can you believe____________?"

Using the nicknames we might have for co-workers as we talk about our day. (Because we're infallible.)

Nicknames for cops.

Using terms for people who don't look like us.

For people who don't speak like we do. Or act just like we do.

People who live in different parts of the world. Or country. Or state. Or town.

People who believe in a different God. Or no God.

People who have more than we do, or much less. Who are walking on the side of the road, or driving a G-Wagon. Who listen to Fox News, or CNN or CBS.

Brick by brick. We teach our kids what is ok and how it's fine to say one thing but do another. We need to drop our walls. Drop our defenses and start admitting that we make mistakes, we can be wrong. We make bad choices and say mean things and that we are sometimes inflexible and exclusionary and only want to be with people who are just like us because maybe we haven't taken the time to get to know anyone different.

Please hand your children the right building materials.

Brick by brick hand them awareness.

There are people who live differently than your family and that it's ok.

There are people who think differently about money, love, driving, dressing, working or worship and it's ok.

It's not wrong it's just different.

Hate is wrong.

It's not our job to be the arbiter of justice or to have the final say over what's right and wrong. It's our job to live well and to build strong, kind children. Listen to them. They'll give you incredible advice. It's up to us to just not mess it up.

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