Birthday Girl

How about this. Your daughter comes home from her first day of Kindergarten crying. She’s discovered some pretty shitty things about people that she didn’t know before. They can be selfish, they can lie, they can make demands that supercede hers.

But even worse, she’s discovered some things about herself she didn’t know. About her own capacity for selfishness, for joining the mean group, maybe even her capacity for violence. She comes home crying because the teacher made her feel bad. Like a bad person — a feeling she has never felt before, and you hoped she never would.

She’s lost a little innocence; she’s seen a little more about the world, and herself, than maybe she even needed to. And you know that time will keep moving, and scribble over today’s horrible events, soon enough. But she can’t ever get back what she left your house with this morning.

So are you going to be upset because she learned these things? Or just sad that she has to know these things about the world?

Because I’ll tell you what: The world isn’t getting worse. It’s getting better all the time. It’s just that in order for that to happen, we have to learn things about ourselves and about the world we’d prefer not to know.

We have unprecedented realtime access to those horrors, and those successes, and it can feel like we’re being beaten down, attacked — but just like your daughter, it’s not that those things didn’t exist before. It’s just that we had the privilege of not knowing.

The dopamine response of outrage is one of the most addictive pleasures we have. But it’s empty. Because you don’t want your daughter to feel worse than she already does, about herself or about the world, you find a place to stand and speak from that will comfort and calm her. You don’t lie. You don’t mess her up with more nonsense. You listen, you hear, you speak.

Because success is good, strength is good. But compassion, kindness. Wisdom. That’s what you want from your daughter, and that’s what you want from the world.

What I have learned this year, and will keep having to learn as long as it takes to get, is that you’re not rebelling against anything but your people when you pretend that you have no power over your circumstances. The world is not George Bush or Pat Robertson cunningly disguised as reality; it is not out to get you, or boss you around, or hurt you. That’s people doing that. Your people.

Your world, and your country, are not your dad: they’re your daughter. Be brave for her. She’s young as hell, and she’s trying.

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