Friday, February 05, 2010

Paradigm Revelation

Yesterday I had an experience that was one of those revealing myself to myself moments. Maybe if I put it more precisely I would say it was a moment of seeing a paradigm in my life and realizing the extent to which this paradigm is not shared by all others.

It's a parenting story. My family was out in a public place with which we are all fairly familiar. The need arose for some of us to be in different locations in this place, and then it became clear that other people for whom we were waiting would need directions so we could meet them. We nominated my son to wait near the entrance to give this direction, because there were no employees (and indeed, few other people at all) for anyone to ask . He was about a 30 second walk from where the rest of us were. In a few minutes, an employee marched my son back into the room where we were. She had a disgusted look on her face and asked if this boy belonged with us. I explained the task we had given him, and she walked out.

My son looked at me and whispered, "See Mom, no one trusts me."

Later, the security guard with whom we'd chatted plenty beforehand, and who seemed far more intent on being friendly than worried, explained that this woman had been fearful that someone would kidnap our son. I talked with him a bit about this, and it was then that this paradigm difference started sinking in.

I realized several things. First of all, I know my son better than anyone. I know the freedom and the independence that he fights me for constantly, and I have a very good sense of his limitations. If anything, I overestimate how limited he is and don't trust him enough. But I also know his fears, his physical capabilities to defend himself and inflict pain, and the reaches of his common sense, which are considerable for his age. We've been over how to deal with people who spell even the remotest sense of danger, and I've seen his reaction in other situations. Standing in a hallway in a public place is not something that had me worried for him.

But under all these parental judgment calls is a deeper paradigm. I realized that the way we live assumes that people are to be served, not feared. Now, I know that lots of people reading this would start into the "oh, but what about... and don't you see this on the news... and you can't trust people..." and blah blah blah. But just this morning I read again Mt. 10:28 "Do not fear the one who can kill the body but cannot kill the soul." That is not a mere suggestion from the Lord, that is a command. There is a reasonable and virtuous sense of caution we need to form in our children and in ourselves, because let's face it, all people are dangerous because all people sin. But either we walk in trust in our Lord and live, or we curl up into the fetal position and retreat from the big bad world. Either I act as if sin is the ultimate power of the universe, or Love is. Perfect love casts out fear, though it never casts out reason. Ultimately, reason is to live in conformity to our Lord Jesus Christ, "who came not to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many."

The difficulty that my son faces as we live this paradigm which I has silently formed in our family culture is generally that others want to instill fear in him. He encounters this at times even at church when he, not sharing my need and desire to attend daily Mass, will, with my blessing, sit in the narthex or gathering space and read a book. He says that well-meaning people will sometimes tell him he needs to go back by his Mom. Even though no one is afraid of physical danger there, my son feels fear of the social pressure of conforming to what these strangers or acquaintances expect of him. I've even suggested that I could give him a note saying "My Mom gives me permission to read here."

I know people are well-meaning, and I do appreciate their concern. I prayed this morning for that woman who looked at me disgustedly, because I'm sure she's had experiences that justify her fears to her, and she only wanted to protect him from what she feared. I suppose it does not happen readily that people look at a child and gain courage. I think that might be unfortunate.

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