As many of you know, one of my favorite things ever is Law and Order: Special Victims Unit. SVU will begin its 20th season this fall, and I have been watching since the beginning. Mariska Hargitay is my #1 woman crush, and I used to say that meeting her was on my bucket list–but I’m pretty sure I would just stammer and ugly cry and maybe pass out if I actually got that chance, so I’ve resigned myself to admiring her from afar.
There’s an episode of SVU involving a little boy–roughly 5 or 6–who is caught in the middle of a vicious and violent divorce. Mom and Dad, for multiple reasons, are splitting up and their anger at one other is very loud and very toxic. As is often the case with divorce. Because no matter the reasons, it is awful. And it can make the most peaceful of human beings want to do the most not peaceful things. Shattered hearts and destroyed dreams are not to be underestimated when it comes to the capacity of one human to exact pain on another human–even one he or she once loved very much.
Anyway, in this particular episode, little Tommy sneaks down the stairs one night in the midst of a very heated argument between his parents. Insults and names and accusations are being hurled back and forth and things are getting worse and worse. And suddenly, into the din, breaks Tommy’s voice, “Mommy? Daddy?” And Mommy and Daddy see his tearstained terrified face and suddenly they realize–our kid…he’s watching. He’s seeing us tear each other apart.
Hey, United States of America? Our kids are watching.
Did you hear me? Our kids are watching.
They see us pointing fingers and declaring who is right and who is wrong.
They see us choosing party over country.
They see us judge one another for the color of our skin.
They see us shooting one another.
They see us not doing a damn thing, really, to stop the influx of opioids into every community in this country.
They see us calling names and throwing jeers and crafting insults and using whatever supposed hot take we’ve come up with for the day to exact our rage on the world.
They see us refusing to work together.
They see us choosing power over love and profit over people.
They see us hiding behind our social media accounts so that we can be snarky without any accountability for it.
They see us.
And we should be ashamed of what we’re showing them.
Look, I believe in God — a loving, generous, graceful God — and that this God created us and sustains us and loves us all beyond measure. And that cannot help but influence how I live and the choices I make.
And so, also…I believe in right and wrong, even if sometimes that’s hard to figure out. And I believe in community. And I believe in caring for one another. And I believe that sometimes I have to give up some privilege if it means someone suffering gets a leg up. I believe in investing in one another. I believe in civil rights. I believe that the American dream still exists and that we’ve done an awful job of protecting what it means to be a part of that dream.
I also believe our systems are broken and our country is terrified and that when things are broken and terrifying people tend to retreat to their safe corners and push away everything and everyone that poses a threat. Even if the threat is just disagreement.
Whatever your political affiliation, whatever your faith tradition, whatever your age and stage in life, this is a very, very difficult time. And that’s an understatement. But no matter how difficult things are, we are doing ourselves no favors, and we are certainly not helping our children learn how to navigate challenging times, with our refusal to engage in actual civil, public discourse.
There is a time and place for righteous anger. And we live in a country where we are free (I thought) to disagree with one another. But our disagreement, our anger–this is not license for cruelty. For dehumanizing one another. And we are, near as I can tell, becoming pros at the cruelty and dehumanizing.
And our kids are watching.
Y’all, every single one of us has a story. Every single one of us has a reason we believe and act the way we do, and our lack of care for one another’s stories is going to be our undoing. I believe this with everything I am. Because that neighbor who voted/believes/lives life differently than you? There’s a reason. And isn’t just that he’s a “liberal snowflake,” or she’s a “cold hearted conservative.” There’s a story–I promise you. And until we make time and space to listen–really listen–to each other’s stories, we will remain at an impasse.
We suck at listening. At really hearing one another. Honestly. We’re terrible at it. And it’s destroying everything that’s good and decent and true and worth celebrating in this country. Because everyone needs to be heard. Really heard. Just like everyone needs to belong. Really belong.
Most of all our kids.
They’re watching. And my deep prayer is that we will come to our senses as a nation and realize this before it’s too late.