General Jim Mattis has talked about his idyllic childhood in Pullman, Washington. There he spent time outdoors, explored, got in trouble, and had an all-American childhood. He talks lovingly of a house filled with books—as we’ve said, a house without books is not a home—and parents who not only encouraged their children to read them, but questioned and interacted with them.
“They introduced us to a world of great ideas—not a fearful place,” he said, “but a place to enjoy.” What a thing to say! A target for each of us to try to hit with our own children.
It’s so easy in these partisan, political times to live not only in a bubble of our own beliefs…but to actively denigrate the beliefs of others. Think of the families hunkered down, watching Fox News, refusing to interact with any information that contradicts their worldview. Think of the parents who are no better than book burners, arguing that Huckleberry Finn should be pulled from schools or that trigger warnings need to be put in front of everything remotely controversial. These people are teaching their children that ideas are dangerous, that disagreement is an offense and that you can make things go away by pretending they don’t exist.
You must teach your kids to be curious, to be open, to be willing to explore. Your job is not to make them believe what you believe or to prevent them from ever encountering what you dislike or think is repulsive. Your job is to teach them how to make their own informed opinions, how to decide for themselves, how to be comfortable with uncomfortable topics. Don’t model contempt. Don’t model close-mindedness. Don’t model fear.
Ideas are our friends. They will serve your children well, and your children will serve them well, if you teach them early and often. The world is a place of great ideas. There is nothing to be afraid of…except fear and ignorance.