Thursday, July 7, 2011

The Positives of Negative (and Feeling Patriotic)

A cute little family sat around a Christmas tree, children huddled on the floor at their father's knee while the mother in her dapper apron, stood demurely behind her husband with a hand resting upon his shoulder.  It was the 1940's, during World War II, and the movie I was watching was a sappy kids show, but it was choking me up!  All was well with this family, once again, after a dramatic sequence involving the father being declared M.I.A., then found injured and hospitalized until he could be shipped home.

It amazed me, how, in the movie, the entire town was focused upon and dedicated toward supporting their troops and the war effort.  People grew "victory gardens", collected all manner of scrap metal to be made into artillery, and would roll bandages and prepare care packages for the troops overseas.  This was all taking place on American soil (and similarly, in Canada as well).  The war was raging overseas, decimating European cities and leaving millions dead, injured, homeless and irrevocably scarred with the horrors they faced.  While our continent, for the most part, did not manifest itself in the form of a battlefield, our cities, towns, and farmlands were actively and fully engaged in the support of our troops and the liberty being fought for by our Allies.

There have been a few times where I've encountered extreme disgust expressed by a war veteran towards today's youth.  My generation (and the ones that follow me), are often known to be ungrateful, disrespectful and ignorant of the freedoms paid for with the blood of our ancestors.

Now I know this is starting to sound like a Remembrance Day post, and doesn't really fit in with the whole July 1, Canada Day (and the fourth of July, which I also celebrated) weekend, but I'm feeling patriotic, so hear me out!

One of the reasons for a lack of gratefulness and awareness, I see as a result of parents, who (like myself) prefer to avoid unpleasantness and painful topics with their children.  I've found myself, over the years, sugar-coating the world and not wanting to acknowledge the bad people and bad history of our civilization.  I prevent my kids from watching violent cartoons, and don't watch the news in their presence.  I tend to avoid conflict and confrontation, and prefer that my children are not exposed to angry people or hurtful topics.  Unfortunately, my cause appears to hopeless since even the Bible we read (as we seek to be a loving, Christan family), is laden with stories of violence and bloodshed!  Within the very first chapters, Cain kills Abel in a fit of jealousy and sibling rivalry, and I hope this doesn't give my children any ideas...

Keeping all this in mind, and knowing that it is impossible to shield our children from the negative actions of others (whether current or historical), I'm left wondering when it is appropriate to share, which details to share, and most of all how do I embark upon the grim task of explaining and sharing the failings of humanity?  I can't avoid it entirely, and it would be a disservice to the heroes of our nation to not repeat their stories because of the darkness they faced in their fight for freedom.  I guess this is fairly similar to the idea of telling one's testimony or the story of what they have overcome in life.  We can't learn from the past if we aren't willing to at least mention it, and recognize the place from which we've grown or been lifted from.

I've been learning to be honest with my children over the years, including the idea that I should be real with my children when I'm having a bad day or feeling sad.  A certain level of discretion is required, based on age-appropriate information, but my kids are essentially going to learn how to deal with their emotions based on the example which I give to them.  This leads me to the social and historical events which are filled with pain and suffering:  As I lead my children in an example of compassion and care when addressing these issues, I am teaching them empathy and giving them a respect for those who endure suffering.

When Thailand had it's major Tsunami, just after Christmas in 2004, the intense suffering and horror of this event was plastered on every newspaper and TV station in sight.  Not only that, but this was the country we would be traveling to in less than 9 months, in order to live and work as missionaries.  My eldest daughter was just 5 years old at the time, but we shared the story of this horrible storm and how it had hurt many people so that we could pray as a family for the nation we would be calling home for a season. 

If anything, the knowledge of others' suffering works in us a propensity to become very grateful.  If we do not acknowledge the work and suffering of others, ignorance is bred and can lead to arrogance if adopted with a sense of entitlement.  Those who feel that they "deserve" nice things and nice treatment all the time, lose their sense of thankfulness.  Just think of how a "spoiled" child rarely expresses gratefulness, but is quick to make demands upon their parents, grandparents and others around them when something isn't quite right.

As adults, it is important for us to hold in reverence that which we've received and been blessed with.  I would like my example to be one that shows humility and gratitude.  I have found that there is nothing more pleasant than a gracious person who is quick to speak words of thankfulness.  A thankful person is not only aware of what they "have", but also what they "have-not".  This is where the negative can be addressed, and turned into a positive by culturing respect and sensitivity in our attitudes.

While I am not advocating a regular diet of learning about the pains and sufferings of others as part of a "healthy" childhood, I am however suggesting that we will encounter much tragedy in this world - some far away, some in the past, and some of it far too close to home.  As we speak honestly to our children, and practice respect and compassion, we are doing them a great service in their ability to be sensitive and to handle the hurts of this world.  Put very simply, the "Golden Rule" from Matthew 7 tells us:  Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.  I see that concept playing out very practically in our daily lives as we consider others; respecting and caring for their hurts when it is our ability to do so.  This awareness and acknowledgement also gives us the tools necessary to handle grief and work through hardship.  Most of all, it draws us together - not unlike the war-time efforts that I described earlier.  When we share in our brother's suffering, it makes the load lighter and it will make a difference.

Ending with that thought, I found this season of celebrating our nations (Canada and the U.S.A. - since my husband is half-American) a lot more exciting than I have in years past.  It was as though I had a new sense of my country's worth.  I felt truly thankful and appreciative of what others had endured and fought for, allowing me to have great freedom and blessing as I raise my family.

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