You Have to Be Taught

A  Guest Post by Contributor Ellen Hardy, written 9 years ago this week.

“Careful the things you say, children will listen…”

– Stephen Sondheim from Into the Woods


At this terrible and troubling time in our nation’s history, a great fear of mine is that through our anger we will become like our enemy.

Our children in watching and listening to what is being said and done today will grow up to have a blanket, all-encompassing hatred that does not take into account individuals but gears itself towards an idea that a populace is bad or evil.

This kind of fear and thinking is what brought about this attack in the first place.

The terrorists who perpetrated these heinous acts were so indoctrinated in hate of the United States as an evil capitalist empire that they did not care about the individuals whose lives they sacrificed in their strike against the U.S. “entity.”

We need to see the people who chose this course as individuals. These radical manifestations of hate may have come from a certain country, been of a certain race, or embraced a certain religion, but that does not mean that ALL of the people from that country, race, or religion are involved.  When we lose sight of the individual, we lose sight of the preciousness of life. That is when horrific events happen.

Americans who take their anger out on businesses or people who seem to be of the same race or religion as the terrorists are, in some ways, no better than the terrorists themselves.

How to Teach, in the Midst of Hatred

We parents have a difficult task ahead of us. We must help our children come to grips with the events that have rocked our foundations.  Children will be confused and upset and looking to us for appropriate ways to respond. Let us NOT be condemning beyond the condemnation that is due the people who were directly involved.

These individuals, we can tell our children, were evil, terrible people, and that the government is trying its best to find these terrorists and punish them.  Blanket statements condemning an entire race or religion need to be avoided at all costs.

Teachers need to set an example of courage, sanity and stability. We need to teach tolerance now more than ever before. I am appalled when I hear stories of teachers making statements that put the blame on an entire country for this tragedy or telling students of certain nationalities to leave their classroom.

This is a time when we need to be very careful of what we say and do. Teachers should be helping students to keep open minds, not closing them off with prejudicial statements. Yes, those who brought this about need to be found, stopped, and punished. Words cannot begin to express how we as individuals and as a nation feel about what has happened. We are hurting, some of us much more than others, and we cry out for justice– but we should not let how we feel escalate into wishing to destroy innocent people in retribution.

Because if we do, this will never, ever end.

“You’ve got to be taught to hate and fear
You’ve got to be taught from year to year
It’s got to be drummed in your dear little ear
You’ve got to be carefully taught”

— Rogers and Hammerstein from “South Pacific”

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  3 comments for “You Have to Be Taught

  1. Lisa Hill
    September 14, 2010 at 12:57 am

    Beautifully stated Ellen! We must not become what we fear. The hatred I’m sensing from my countrymen seems to be contagious. It spreads and grows and gives a sense of warped unity against dark forces of the unknown. Us against “it”. And that yearning for unity is being manipulated by words of hate. I’m hopeful the persistent reasonable voice of sanity and love for what our country’s ideals really are will break through the mob mentality and reach our children’s ears.

  2. J, Connecticut
    September 14, 2010 at 5:31 am

    Thanks, Ellen. Though, sad that even 9 years on, your post is even more relevant. I had the first talk with my 5 year olds about Sept 11th this weekend because I didn’t want them to hear and learn, as you say, all the generalized fear and hate swirling around us. It can start so young.

  3. September 14, 2010 at 4:38 pm

    I heard two different points of view today on public radio today, both from Muslim Americans. One said he thought that the state of our cultural health was dire– that so many Americans were desperate to draw lazy conclusions and to ignore the principles that the country was founded on.

    Another man said that this is just a cycle, especially common during during hard economic times. That we like to scapegoat a segment of people– right now it happens to be the Muslims and the undocumented Latinos. In the past it was the Irish and the Italians. He said he believes it is a part of having to feel as though there is an “Other.” It makes us feel more stable.

    I tend to agree with them both.

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