An Open Letter to My Children: People May Try to Lie to You About Our World, Don’t Believe Them

Photo: Mayur Gala,

Photo: Mayur Gala,

I know you don’t realize it, but our world is a little turbulent right now. Probably not any more turbulent than normal, really, but the present and future often feel more frightening than the past. There are definitely scary things that happen too often. There are people hurting each other. There are children who don’t have enough food to eat or a safe place to live. There are lots of people who are treated unfairly and many others who refuse to acknowledge the privileges they enjoy. Sometimes, it’s more than unfair; people are treated as less than human because of perceived differences and the fears of others. And when those who hold all the power refuse to even acknowledge there is a problem, well, solutions can seem impossible. We certainly need to do everything we can to help fix these problems.

But before we can try to solve the real problems that we have there’s one really important thing we have to do. We have to know the difference between real and make believe. And when people try to tell us things that we know aren’t true, when they try to make us be mean and hateful, when they try to make us afraid, we have to tell them NO. They can lie to us all they want, but we will not believe them.

They can yell and scream about how we should be scared to walk out our front door every morning because masses of faceless others are waiting to hurt us.

They can shout until they are blue in the face that people that don’t look like us or don’t speak our language are dangerous and scary.

They can hide behind their phones and their keyboards and type insults and put people down.

They can talk all they want, but it doesn’t make anything they say real. Because reality doesn’t look anything like what they want you to believe. The world is filled with kind and loving people who support each other and simply do the best they can.

Like at Jacob’s preschool, at drop-off and pick-up, the flurry of energy and activity is narrated in both English and Spanish. But no matter which language we primarily speak, we greet each other like human beings. Sometimes we talk briefly about our children or school activities. Sometimes we don’t understand each other, but when that happens, we just smile and carry on. Because the things we have in common far outweigh any differences we might have. First and foremost, we love our children and our families and we are doing everything we can to get by and make the world a little better for them.

Differences don’t divide us unless we let them. Now, that doesn’t mean we should pretend differences don’t exist. Or say things like “I wish people would stop talking about skin color and gender because I think everyone is equal!” First, no one has the right to tell people how to feel. Particularly those whose situations and circumstances they can’t possibly understand. Second, one person saying something that sounds nice doesn’t make it true. That is also make believe. When years and years and years of real actions, not just words, have built barriers between groups of people, saying something that you think sounds nice isn’t going to make everything better.

Many people will talk about this equality that they feel in their hearts, but at the same time they will suggest, often without stopping to recognize the contradiction, that people who are different can’t really be trusted. The funny thing is, though, almost everyone I’ve ever met approaches everyday interactions with strangers the same way we do: With kindness and generosity. It is only when the faces are erased, when the individuals lose their individuality and fade into the blurriness of the crowd, that fear and hate begin to creep in.

That is what you have to remember. Our world is made up of real people. Even the people that jump online and rant about scary “others” or nod in agreement when a red-faced man is shouting at them from the television about how terrible everything is, deep down most of them know what is real and what is a lie. Because they live in the real world every day. And in that real world they say hello to a stranger at their child’s school and thank you to the cashier at Walmart no matter what she looks like or what language she speaks or what she believes. That’s just what real people do.

And this generosity of spirit is why we love our world and our country and why we are lucky to live in it. Please don’t let anyone ever try to tell you that fear is more powerful than understanding or that hate is stronger than love or that there is ever such a thing as too much kindness. That’s all I ask.