A ten-year-old Jim Lawson was walking down the street when, as he passed a car, a small child looked at him and called him the n-word. Stunned by the hate and the meanness of it, Lawson reached into the car and slapped the boy in the face.
When his mother found out about this, she was understandably worried. In the then-segregated and racist South, the actions of a young black boy could so easily lead to something terrible and tragic at the hands of awful and unaccountable adults. But more than that, she wanted her son not to be defined or changed by the hate of the world around him.
“What good did that do, Jimmy?” his mother asked him. “We all love you, Jimmy and God loves you,” his mother explained, “and we all believe in you and how good and intelligent you are. We have a good life and you are going to have a good life. With all that love, what harm does that stupid insult do? It’s nothing, Jimmy, it’s empty. Just ignorant words from an ignorant child who is gone from your life the moment it was said.”
This was a life-changing exchange, David Halberstam explains in his book, *The Children*. And it put Jim Lawson onto his world changing path of non-violence. It helped him realize that he was above the horrible things that other people said and did, what mattered, as the Stoics would also say, was what he said and did. What mattered was responding with kindness and love. What mattered was knowing that he was good and that he was loved and nothing anyone else thought could change that.
Lawson’s parents gave him the gift of teaching him–after that understandable lapse–that he was bigger than the small people who lived around him. That he could be the bigger person and do bigger things. And as we talked about recently, Lawson would in turn do that for his own children. Now, here today, can you do the same for yours?