Thank You, Rosa Parks

Before I begin, I should probably start by saying that I am a huge fan of “being nice.”  And most of the time I am.  Or at least I try to be.   And I should probably add that “being nice” is something we endeavor to encourage in our children.

But this week, one of our children (who shall remain nameless) did something (which shall also remain unnamed) that wasn’t so nice.

It wasn’t cruel; it wasn’t unkind.  The behavior didn’t hurt anyone or anything.   It didn’t cause damage–literal or figurative.

It just wasn’t nice.

He had an opinion about something, he expressed it, and, well, in doing so, he didn’t come off as particularly nice.

We had the requisite conversations–discussed how he was entitled to his opinion, just as everyone is, but that he needed to express his thoughts in a way that was at least cordial, that he needed to disagree respectfully.

It was at that moment that I realized just two weeks before we were having a very different conversation–one about Rosa Parks, and how she stood up for what was right but in doing so broke the law (as egregious and horrible as the law was) and came off to many people as “not particularly nice.”  And we concluded that at times you have to speak up, to think for yourself, to express yourself–even if that means confronting the status quo, even it that means you will come across as less than nice.  We, like the rest of the world, termed Rosa Parks a “hero.”

And while certainly the issue about which my son expressed his opinion at first glance doesn’t appear to rise to the level of social injustice, to him–at his young age–it probably did.

We spend so much time–as a society–working very, very hard, tiptoeing around, in fact, so as not to offend anyone.  We put “nice’ on a pedestal and ask each other to drape our thoughts and actions in euphemism.

But does this quash original, critical thought?  Are we unwittingly asking ourselves–and, more importantly, our children–to put everything we, they think and feel through a filter that relegates powerful, colorful, and, yes, contradictory ideas to mere muted shadows of themselves?

As a parent, I want my children to be nice (as in kind, compassionate, empathic, and helpful) and grow into “nice” adults; but I must say, at the risk of being not-so-nice, it is my equal hope that they grow up strong and able to speak for themselves and speak up for others, even if that means disagreeing–with me, with you, with the rest of the world.

Are being nice and being a strong critical thinker mutually exclusive?

I hope not–for the sake of my children and yours–I truly hope not.

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6 thoughts on “Thank You, Rosa Parks

  1. Chris Crutcher had a character say, “I wanted the words back as soon as they were out of my mouth.” How many times have we sacrificed silence?
    Many are prejudiced against children, who, in attempting to test limits and express thoughts need to learn how to self-judge, which often comes from an adult who asks, “Was that the best choice of words?”
    Peace,
    len

  2. Samantha, you are absolutely spot-on, as usual! Informed, thought-out, deeply felt opinions need to be aired — yes, in as “kind” a manner as possible — but we must not strip our children of their right to express themselves! So many have retreated to the “I’m offended” cave — that many have stopped thinking critically — in fear of being “offensive!” Let’s raise our children to do good — but — to not be afraid to speak their minds!!!!

  3. As a child I was taught that I was too young to have an opinion, and that children were to be seen and not heard. As a teen I was taught that even though I had reached an age where I could have a opinion (only when asked) and as long as it was a nice opinion and did not offend anyone, then this was acceptable behavior. (If you cannot say anything nice then don’t say anything concept) By the time I became a young adult I found that silence was my best approach to staying out of trouble, and at times even this was considered wrong. However I believe that as parents we have the responsibility to teach our children to become strong critical thinkers, and along the way they will from time to time be “not so nice ” in their word choices, just as we find ourselves at times, and this to is ok. It’s how we learn and grow in becoming leaders and not followers.

  4. As a child I was seen and heard! my family in no shape form or fashion taught their kids that rule. Not even my great grandmother taught her kids that in her error. We were taught to be opinionated no matter what. But there are times where you need to know “when to hold and when to fold” (which means: there are times you Speak up, and times you Shut up). And to use “Constructive criticism” but there were times when people need a “Harsh reality check” whether it hurts or not! lol and the one thing that has taught me… people may not like what you say initially but they can respect you for being honest:)!

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