A Letter to My Sons About Matt Lauer

A Letter to My Sons About Matt Lauer

Dear Boys,

This morning started just like any other morning.  The three of us rushed around the house, grabbing breakfast and packing lunches and filling backpacks for school.  We were listening to the news, prepared to hear the latest White House tweet, when Savannah Guthrie’s quivering voice shared something unexpected – that her friend and co-host on the Today Show, Matt Lauer, had been fired.  You asked me why I stopped what I was doing.  You noticed that my voice was shaky, too.

Now that you are both a little older, I choose not to shield you from the news.  Sometimes the news reports are ugly and painful.  Sometimes they introduce you to issues I would rather you didn’t know.  But the news is also the truth of the world that you live in.  I want you to see it and feel it and wrestle with it while you are still living here.  I want you to face reality even when reality is hard.  I want you to ask me all kinds of questions because it’s my job to get you ready to face the challenges of life.

So you are both aware that powerful men have been falling like dominos recently, one after another.  We have watched their belief that power and money could make them invincible crumble.  And our illusion that we can tell whom we should trust has collapsed, as well.

I thought I could trust Matt Lauer, guys.  I really did.

Before you left for school today, we had a conversation about how, even though each new story makes me feel disgusted and sad, we are witnessing a pivotal moment in American culture, a moment in which powerful people – businessmen, politicians, and celebrities – are finally being held accountable for clearly unacceptable behavior.  I told you that this means, maybe, hopefully, that you won’t have to worry about your wife being hit on at work someday or your daughters being expected to excuse demeaning treatment to progress in their careers or even keep their jobs.  I told you that this change could signal the beginning of a more equal balance of power in high-level positions and that all people will have to start thinking more before they make decisions – because there may actually be accountability for behaviors that were conveniently overlooked before.  Ultimately, this is a good and historical moment.

And then I sent you off to school.

But after you headed to the bus stop, I reflected on our conversation and felt uneasy.  It wasn’t because I said anything that I don’t believe to be true, and it wasn’t because I don’t see this as a truly significant moment for women.  I felt uneasy because I had suggested to you that this watershed is a victory for women alone, that you, my sons, will benefit only indirectly through the women you love.

But that isn’t true.

Sure, this moment matters because there will always be women who play significant roles in your lives – women like me and your grandmothers, your aunts and your cousins, possibly someday your wives and daughters and nieces.  All of these women, every single one of them, deserve to be treated with dignity and respect inside their workplaces and everywhere else.  I want you to care about women.  I want you to be empathetic, compassionate men.  I want you to notice and positively impact how other people are treated.

But as a mom of boys, I know that changing our culture in positive ways will directly impact your futures, too.  The society that we have created for you, the unclear expectations that we have set for young men – this stuff scares a mom, guys.  Because it is probably safe to assume that some of the men who have crashed in the headlines for tormenting subordinates with inappropriate advances or making lewd comments to or about female co-workers were raised by loving mothers who taught them to be respectful gentlemen, too.

So what the heck happened?

I don’t know how to answer that question.

What I do know, my boys, is that you will receive many confusing messages from the snake oil salesman that is our culture.  He will tempt you with simple remedies for your insecurities and peddle empty vials labeled “happiness” and “satisfaction” that will never provide the relief that you seek.  He will talk out of both sides of his mouth, confusing you with mixed up ideas about what it means to be a man.  He will tell you to be a gentleman always but then feed you a steady stream of music and graphic images that depict women as disposable objects rather than smart, respectable humans.  He will tell you that nothing is more admirable than being a devoted father and husband but then reward you for showing off your machismo, for drinking too much, for laughing at inappropriate jokes, for choosing work over home.  He will tell you that honesty is a virtue but then persuade you that what other people don’t know won’t hurt you.  He will warn you that you could be fired for behaving unethically but then convince you that behaving unethically is just what you need to do to move higher and at a faster pace.  He will feed your ego with power, convincing you that you are above the rules, and then laugh when that power is ultimately stripped away.

In recent weeks we have seen that the Boys’ Club still exists, that it clearly remains part of the business world in America.  It is exclusive.  It comes with perks and promotions, a sense of importance and often generous financial rewards for the guys who get in.  The men in The Club seem confident and invincible.  Really, it must be a whole lot of fun.

Until it isn’t.

So our culture needs to change for the girls in your class at school, certainly, but also for you.  It is easy for you to say at 11 and 13 that you will do the right thing when faced with your own difficult choices in the future.  But I know that IT’S NOT EASY to choose not to laugh at the boss’s inappropriate remarks when you know what he expects and a promotion hangs in the balance.  I know that IT’S NOT EASY to tell your coworkers that rating the looks of the women at the office after a meeting isn’t acceptable, knowing that you may lose friends.  I know that IT’S NOT EASY to remember that really big mistakes start with really small decisions – decisions to do things or say things or accept things or overlook things that become the bricks that pave a path toward your own disaster.

As a teacher, I have seen one truth about people proven over and over again: our human nature is to raise ourselves or lower ourselves to the expectations of those around us.  I have seen students at a high risk of dropping out or going to jail achieve incredible personal and academic success because of the challenging expectations, consistent support, and high level of accountability provided by other people.  And I have seen students who had every reason to be successful fail miserably in school or in life because of the low expectations, weak support, and lack of accountability offered by the people they pulled closest to them.  I want you, my sons, to help set a high bar for the people around you.  But I want our culture to start setting a higher bar for YOU.  Because even though I believe that you are personally responsible for making the choices that you know are right in your life, it will be a heck of a lot easier to do the right thing when the climate in your workplace and your circle of friends demand it.

As a woman, I believe that this is a critical and exciting moment for women and girls in America.  As a mom of boys, I recognize that the changes that should and hopefully will come from the recent revelations will help you, the sons I love so very much, to live a better life, as well.  The news has been dark and troubling, but there are so many lessons you can learn from the mistakes of other people, boys.  Just this week, we’ve discussed that the right thing to do is always the right thing to do.  That peer pressure to behave a certain way or to be quiet will still exist when you grow up.  That power is intoxicating and can make really smart people behave in really stupid ways.  That “what happens in Vegas” or Sochi or wherever doesn’t actually stay there forever.  That it is important to have friends whom you can trust, friends who are brutally honest, friends who knew you before you accomplished anything at all.  That people make mistakes and that mistakes can be forgiven but that you can never move past mistakes that you don’t own.  That if you have created a reputation of behaving inappropriately and someone does falsely accuse you, you are going to have a very, very hard time defending your name.  And that it is always wise to imagine your decisions as newspaper headlines first – because the reality is that they could be.

Most importantly, we have been reminded that how we treat one another matters.  Please treat other people kindly, boys.  All of the people around you, the men and the women.

You will be rewarded for it, even if it means that you can’t be in The Club.

Love you always,

Mom 

Teaching Kids Kindness in the Face of Fear

Paris (1)

For the first time in forever, I was able to savor a quiet, un-busy weekend at home, so I curled up with a blanket and a cup of tea on Saturday morning to catch up on my long-neglected newsfeed. Lucky for me, I stumbled upon this essay written by a talented mom who blogs at You Have Six Kids? In her post, she reflects on the question of how to teach kids kindness in a world where unkindness often feels like the norm. Her post caught my attention because she drives home the point that we, as parents, as people, cannot allow fear to seep into our hearts and erode our own values of love and generosity toward others. Recent events in Paris and Mali have fed into our darkest fears, fears that aim to manipulate and isolate us.

In her post, she explores the truth that when bad things happen in our lives, we are tempted to disconnect from others, to focus on self-preservation at the expense of what is inherently good about ourselves and our country. Helping people who need us can be scary. It can feel risky. It can even be painful. But that doesn’t mean that helping is any less right than it was the day before something terrible happened.

And these ideas really got me thinking about how my feelings do not give me a one-way ticket out of difficult situations. About how uncomfortable predicaments that test my convictions not only allow me to help others, but also promote my own personal growth. About how if I am able to help, and available to help, and especially if God has put me in the right place at the right time to help, then helping is not so much my choice as it is my responsibility. About how our children learn to do good by watching and participating when we ourselves do good, and about just how many opportunities to help others exist all around us every single day.

heart rock

Now, I don’t know the mom who wrote this article, but she has street cred, for sure. Her personal story is the epitome of faith in action. You can check it out on her blog. She is selfless. She is generous. She is inspiring.  I am grateful to have read her words this morning.

But there was something else that stuck with me after reading her essay, something that I just couldn’t shake from my brain. Here it is, in the second part of this statement from her post: “Teaching kids to be kind to one another can be difficult, considering we live in a world fueled by hate and evil.”

Teaching kids to be kind can definitely be difficult. Preach it, Sister!

But a world fueled by hate and evil?

Whoa.

That. Is. Depressing.

And I just can’t believe that it is true.

Now let me just say, based on the rest of this writer’s essay, that I’m not so sure that she and I disagree on this point at all. In fact, I have a feeling that we would actually be on exactly the same page here if we had a heart-to-heart conversation over lunch, like mom friends do. But this IS a scary premise that many people embrace these days, and it feeds anxiety, and it has influenced some smart people to do and say some crazy, hateful things, exactly the kinds of things that this writer challenges in her post.

Don’t get me wrong. There is hate and there is evil. We saw it in Paris. We have seen it on American soil. We have witnessed it through vile acts of international terrorism and through deplorable examples of domestic crime. We watch it on the news locally, nationally, and globally every day. It runs as a constant stream across our newsfeeds. It interrupts normal broadcasting. It screams for attention through “Special Reports” and “Breaking News.” Photographs of perpetrators of evil flash across our television screens and glare at us from the front pages of newspapers. We watch footage of bombers hiding their secrets in crowds at marathons and planes crashing into buildings over and over and over again.

And we start to believe that this is all there is outside our front doors. The world is hate. The world is evil.

Except that it isn’t.

Remember that fear we were talking about? Well, he’s a liar.

As the writer at You Have Six Kids? explains, we teach our kids kindness by showing kindness ourselves, especially when being kind is a difficult, scary, or inconvenient thing for us to do. She is so right! Let’s also teach our kids kindness, even when frightening things are happening all around, by helping them to SEE THE GOOD in the world outside of the bubbles that we have created for them.

Because it is everywhere.

Because it is powerful.

Because it is contagious.

Because it can change people.

Because it can build a bridge where there is only a divide.

Because it can speak English. And Arabic. And Chinese. And Russian.

And because last week, we all learned to speak kindness in French.

Good is always present, even in the dark places where evil lurks, even in the face of terrible atrocities. There are always some people who are choosing to do what is good. Always.

I want to help my children see them.

I want them to know that there were many, many more people praying for Paris than attacking it, that there were many people from many places sending resources to help, that there were many countries offering assistance.

You see, my goal is not to shield my children from the harsh realities of the world around them, but I do want them to see a world that is fueled by faith and hope and love, a world where evil, while it may threaten, cannot maintain a strong grip if the people who are working for good are working together. I want them to focus on the heroes. I want them to see the servants. I want them to know that in the battle of good against evil, the good guys outnumber the bad.

It is my goal, just like it is the goal of the mom at You Have Six Kids? and the goal of the other moms who are part of my village, to raise children who become the men and women who someday lead our communities and our nation in pursuit of what is right.

We can teach our kids to DO the good even when the work is hard or scary.

We can teach our kids to SEE the good even when the bad demands our attention.

And we can teach our kids to BE the good wherever in the world life takes them.

Paris (2)

photo credit: <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/33011324@N00/502116633″>gratuitous eiffel tower shot</a> via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a&gt; <a href=”https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/2.0/”>(license)</a&gt;

photo credit: <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/28232355@N05/7966684542″>Rock Hard Love</a> via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a&gt; <a href=”https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/2.0/”>(license)</a&gt;

photo credit: <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/85608594@N00/14493000464″>Johann Wolfgang von Goethe A man sees in the world what he carries in his heart</a> via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a&gt; <a href=”https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/”>(license)</a&gt;

 

 

 

This Week I Will Notice People

Notice People

This week, I will notice people.

Not the people who are loud and rude. Not the ones who shout demands. Not the wheels that squeak.

I will not notice them.

This week, I will notice the unnoticed ones.

I will not pass them briskly, blinded by my distractions. I will notice them. I will peek over the walls that separate us. I will look past the boundaries of our skin. I will gaze into their hearts this time. I will listen earnestly to hear the words that they aren’t saying.

I will see the tears that are not being shed.

I will feel the pain that’s hidden deep within.

I will recognize the anger that is heartache in disguise.

I will sense the grief concealed beneath a smile.

I will perceive the hopelessness in eyes that won’t meet mine.

I will spot the fear that no one else detects.

I will notice.

I will meet the shame, and I will shake its hand. I will see the sadness and the exhaustion and the despair. I will greet the desperation, and I will be the one who does not turn away. I will not pretend that I don’t see.

I will notice.

And I will offer hope.

I will flash a smile that is sincere.

I will encourage with a story or a hug.

I will model bravery even when I am afraid.

I will buy the coffee that brightens someone’s day.

I will say hello and how are you to the ones that no one sees.

I will sacrifice my own conveniences.

I will surrender the closer parking space.

I will hold the door.

I will really listen.

I will allow the gratitude that is in my heart to overflow.

I will prove my interest by connecting with my eyes.

I will show compassion.

I will ask questions because I care about the answers.

I will be the evidence that there is love.

I will invite the struggling mom to cut in line.

I will react with patience and with love.

I will reveal my own weaknesses.

I will share grace.

I will take time.

I will forgive.

I will be aware.

I will be nice.

This week, I will notice.

Will you notice people, too?

photo credit: <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/48266396@N00/164175205″>Liverpool Street station crowd blur</a> via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a&gt; <a href=”https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/”>(license)</a&gt;