I know a lot of people – women and mothers especially – doing really amazing things in the world. It is this that comforts me when I start to get depressed about the news. There are people all over the world who are using their unique gifts to creatively tackle the difficulties of our time – income inequality, racism, sexism, xenophobia, war, gun violence, climate change – name a problem and you’ll find a person or group of people devoting time, energy, and talent to both the causes and effects of these problems. My faith in humanity lies in its willingness to figure out the messes we keep creating.
Now that my oldest is nearing 5 years old, his questions about the world are becoming more complex. He is beginning to see the interconnectedness of the world and I am of course trying to make sure that my answers both satisfy his curiosity and invite him further into critical thinking.
To me, this feels like an essential part of raising a socially conscious child; I don’t want to teach him what to think about the world, I want to teach him how to think about the world, and then how to translate this critical analysis into meaningful action.
I recently had the pleasure of listening to one of the authors of the book This is an Uprising: How Nonviolent Revolt is Shaping the 21st Century speak about social movement ecology at the nonprofit I co-founded. Paul Engler spoke directly to something I’ve struggled with as a person committed to social change. What should I be doing? Do we fight the system? Do we “be the change”? Do we scrap everything and start over?
Paul’s answer was that for real social change to happen, we need a healthy ecosystem of efforts. For some of us this will mean a focus on personal transformation and healing, for others it will mean modeling a different way of operating outside of existing institutions, and for some it will mean taking a stand against existing structures in an effort to change or influence them. For most of us, we will move between and among all three, depending on where we are in our own lives. All approaches are necessary and all lead to meaningful social change. Like all other ecosystems, diversity is key!
So how do we, as parents, model this?
How do we empower our children to take meaningful action in the world in the way that makes the most sense for them at each point in their life?
And how do we model the necessary cooperation and collaboration that has to happen between all people working for social change so that the ecosystem can be healthy and productive?
Well, like all things we want to teach our children, we do these things ourselves! The work for us then, as parents, is to identify what we have to offer the world, and to commit to using these gifts and talents in a way that makes the most sense for where we are in our lives. I think the mistake I’ve made in the past has been feeling like whatever I did to address social woes had to be big and bold. Since having children I’ve learned the impact of small things. Each choice, every day, can be a socially conscious one.
This, perhaps, is what I want to make sure I teach my children: when it comes to social change, every choice matters and our choices must be informed by a commitment to personal transformation, a willingness to approach the existing institutions with a critical eye, and the courage to create new ways of doing and being outside of what already exists.
Do you have a way that you try to teach your children to give back in the world?
This is an original post written for World moms blog by Ms. V.
Photo Source: the National Archives and Records Administration