Every year, MLK Jr’s Birthday is celebrated as a major event at my kids’ elementary school. On the Friday preceding the holiday Monday, the children perform a school-wide musical assembly. They prepare in their music classes for months in advance.
Much good fruit has been borne in our family from this annual tradition: my children have a grasp of that period of American history, discussions at home of laws and justice arise as they seek to understand, and the extraordinary model of Martin Luther King Jr. and his nonviolent resistance is held high. As we partake of this annual community tradition, I too have been pushed to think more deeply about the civil rights movement in our country and the power of peaceful protest.
As I sat in the school auditorium last Friday watching the program, I realized I may have implied something about justice in my post about “fairness” that I did not mean. I wrote,
questions of both global and local justice are close to my heart. I want my kids to know right from wrong, to understand equality in the sense of every person being treated with dignity and respect, to understand that consequences must follow crimes. I would argue, though, that they cannot become true champions of justice until their hearts are steeped in thankfulness. To champion justice is to seek the best for others.
While I maintain that often the best champions of justice are focused on others, I want to add that there are indeed times when it is right and good to pursue justice on one’s own behalf and the behalf of one’s own group. Clearly, MLK and his associates were right to pursue racial equality that would benefit themselves and and all their fellow Black Americans. Certainly, an abuse victim is right to report the crime to the police. American women were right to demand the right to vote.
There are circumstances which demand that we advocate on our own behalf. My point was simply that unequal cupcake size is not one of them. That is an event that is better met with a grateful heart than a crusading one. And the job of parents is to help their children distinguish between these occasions.
May we teach our kids to steep themselves in thankfulness even as we teach them to know their own rights and to honor them. For we cannot truly lay down our lives until we understand the value of that which we are laying down. It is not turning the other cheek unless we actually felt the sting on the cheek that was first struck. We are trying to teach our girls both self-regard and self-sacrifice.
These are truths that are difficult to hold simultaneously, especially for children. The examples of Jesus of Nazareth and Martin Luther King are helpful in this. Both men held themselves with freedom and strength, even as they submitted to the lashes of their oppressors. I have never met a person who had simultaneous self possession and willingness to self sacrifice who did not also have heart habits of humility and gratitude. Character that is able to persevere in virtue arises from the mingled soil of self-respect, humility, courage, thankfulness, and self-giving. Let us cultivate all of these in our children.
© Laura Goetsch and goetschblog, 2015.