When we discuss the topic lately, I can hear the heavy sighs between my deadpan responses; I sound as stunned as I feel.
Talking politics with my nine-year-old has been the ultimate practice in maturity and self-control. I picture myself walking a tightrope, attempting a mindful and rhythmic heel-to-toe, heel-to-toe. I’m trying to keep my cool, but I’m carrying an obnoxiously large balancing pole made of crazy-making emotions. I begin to scream, but only on the inside, lest I scare the watchful children.
My daughter has responded to the election similarly to many little ones: She’s been open-hearted, perceptive, unsettled, confused, and increasingly curious about her surroundings, her safety, and the future. She’s also displayed, as many little ones have, more empathy and emotional intelligence than some of our country’s most influential and vocal (think Twitter) adults.
I’m determined to speak with her about politics – and every other essential topic – responsibly. As long as we continue to live in a culture so dominated by dichotomous conversation and thought, I’m especially adamant about emboldening her critical thinking skills and awakening her compassionate heart.
I’m trying to teach her to listen well; to take a learning posture; to value people and relationships; to be a voice for the voiceless; to defend the vulnerable; to give generously; to act justly in every circumstance; to wed kindness with healthy boundaries; to be inclusive and radically merciful; to wrap the truth in grace; to move conversations forward; to ask good questions; to lead and empower; to live humbly; to challenge destructive fear; to speak and stand against injustice; to be an encourager, a bridge-builder, a freedom-fighter, and a peace-maker.
I’m trying to teach my child what love can do. Yes, even in politics.
Political topics come up often as we’re driving around town together; this was particularly true during the volatile election season. Through the summer and autumn months, the weathered gray house down the road offered consistently cruel reading material – no flat piece of cardboard seemed to escape our neighbor’s permanent marker. This, combined with a lawn showering of Make America Great Again, made his message hard to miss.
Surely there is something noteworthy behind the angry cardboard cries of this citizen’s heart, behind the angry cries of any heart. And whether we are met with ignorance, peace, conflict, or outright hatred, it is the right thing to respond with love. Such a concept as love can seem so obscure – easy to stitch on a pillow, harder to wear as a way of life.
In our family, we embrace the Biblical description (1 Corinthians 13). Spoken during countless Christian weddings since its penning, it has become familiar and valuable even to the non-religious and to those of other faiths. Its poetic words are pointed, charged, and beautifully daring; only in their misuse are they ever harmful.
I’ve become a disciple of this kind of love, resolved to learning and modeling its many faces: How it is patient and kind; how it is without envy or pride; how it honors others and doesn’t self-seek; how it is slow to anger; how it keeps no record of wrongs; how it rejoices in what is true; how it protects, trusts, perseveres; and how it always, always hopes.
My daughter has wondered if she could be president someday; it’s now within the realm of possibility. But until then, she should be able to easily hope that anyone who will ever bear the awesome responsibility of a United States presidency will know much about love – and naturally, much about being honorable, relational, and safe. We entrust our children to such people. Perhaps this is why the latest political commentary between me and my daughter unfolded so effortlessly.
We were driving home from the elementary school, chatting on about the evening’s schedule. We made our familiar turn and immediately saw how diligently our neighbor’s Sharpie had been working. Duct-taped to his screen door was a new sign that read, OBAMA IS PURE EVIL.
My daughter noticed it first.
“Mom, that sign says, ‘Obama is pure evil.’” She repeated it again as if disoriented, as if the closed-door insistence of the word pure had shoved her interest backward.
I felt the tightrope wobble. Nonetheless, I reflected back what I was hearing, minus the neighbor’s all-or-nothing punch.
“That’s a strong opinion, eh? Sounds like he doesn’t like Mr. Obama very much. And I’m sure there are some very real reasons he’s feeling frustrated.”
She shrugged, eyebrows raised, and went quiet. I kept talking. That’s what you do when you’re holding the balancing pole and it suddenly leans way too far to the right.
“I suppose we can never really know the depths of anyone’s heart,” I explained. “But based on what I’ve seen and experienced of him, I’m pretty sure President Obama is not pure evil.”
This intrigued her. “What about Donald Trump? You think he’s evil?”
“I don’t really know that either. I hope not.”
I paused to concentrate on the tightrope; I noticed how straightforward it looked.
“Here’s what I can tell you. If I was in a pinch and needed someone to babysit you, I wouldn’t hesitate to call President Obama.”
I anticipated her next question, which briefly hung unspoken in the air between us: Would you call Donald Trump?
I turned my face toward my daughter to make certain she could see her mother’s eyes.
“Not in a million years, honey. Not in a million years.”