Saturday, 9 August 2014

Fine Lines

Yesterday, I had the vastly unpleasant experience of someone stealing my wallet and having a grand old time with my credit cards until I noticed that it was missing. After many, many hours of worrying, and berating myself for not being more attentive, and cleaning up the mess that this inconsiderate person created, I now find myself wondering what I can take away from the experience.

Obviously, my No. 1 learning is, for God's sake, don't keep so much stuff in your wallet! I'm embarrassed that I wasn't smarter or more careful—but to be honest, that's not what's really bothering me.

My parents both considered themselves spiritual but not formally religious people. We didn't go to church, because they had issues with the conflicts (wars, genocide) that organized religion can sometimes cause. I explored a few different paths, visiting different churches with my friends, but none of them felt right to me. Then I went to university and read Nietzsche, and out went any notion that organized religion would be my source of comfort.

But I do believe that everyone has to believe in SOMETHING, so I decided that I would believe in people. People are essentially good, I told myself, and throughout my life, I've found many examples to shore up my argument. So what's really bothering me about this incident is that it's shaken my faith in just how "good" people really are.

Plus, I'm finding myself more preoccupied with an even bigger dilemma: if I don't understand this kind of behaviour, how can I possibly explain it to my kids?

As parents, we invest so much time and energy in teaching our kids to share, to get along, to be nice and to participate actively in our community. Those are undeniably important messages.

But how do we reconcile these messages with the other messages that we also need to convey: that not everyone is nice, good or honourable? That, at some point (and, let's face it, probably at many points) in my kids' lives, someone is going to try to screw them over? That they will sometimes lose out to factors beyond their control. That there are bad people in the world. And that even essentially good people can still make bad decisions that have damaging consequences.

Mostly, I worry about my eldest daughter—the one we call the Arbiter of Justice, since she always lets you know where you stand when you violate one of the "rules" she's learned. Because no matter how smart or pretty she is, and no matter how well she thinks she understands how the world works, sooner or later, someone isn't going to like her. Someone will steal something from her. Someone will violate her trust. Someone will break her heart. And the thought of having to teach her that breaks my heart.

Share...but don't share everything. Help others...but not if it puts you in danger. Be kind...but don't expect everyone to be kind to you.

I want my kids to do what's right. But if I don't understand how people can act the way they do, how can I possibly explain it to them?

We don't live in a world that's black and white; it is so many subtle shades of grey. I want to raise kids who understand how to live—and thrive—in such a world. I just hope I'm equal to the task.

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