Tag Archives: society

Unpacking a Backpack

My Facebook news feed and WordPress reader today are surprisingly full of things related to My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic.

All because of a 9 year old boy’s “girly” backpack. Or perhaps because of the reactions to it, from the bullies in his school to the administrators dealing with the situation.

The backstory is a kid wore his My Little Pony backpack to school and got picked on. His mom complained to the school staff, and in addition to whatever else they did, the principal said the kid should leave the backpack at home.

I’ve read comments and blogs raging against bullies, saying this response is the same as “She deserved it because she wore that dress.” (Full disclosure, that was my initial take and I even posted that comment online.)

And I’ve read blogs declaring “I wouldn’t let my kid wear that, because boys should be boys.” One poster made what I think is a valid point – are we really comparing a kid picked on for wearing a MLP backpack to rape?

I’m sitting comfy in my house in Nebraska, far removed from Grayson’s life and surroundings. I only get the side of the story presented in the angry blurbs on FB, saying “The school sided with the bullies!” I don’t know what all the school said to the family, or whether the bullies have been disciplined, and how severely, if so.

So naturally my limited information qualifies me to speak in absolute terms about what’s going on in that kid’s life.

I am however a fan of the show, along with my four kids (14 yr old daughter, and boys ages 13, 8 and 3). My wife is decidedly opposed to all things Pony.

Here are some general observations:

1. Violence against others is unacceptable. Assaulting someone (physically, verbally, socially) has no place in a civilized society. Such actions deserve swift and stern discipline – knowing that the point of discipline is not merely to punish but to educate and rehabilitate toward a more desirable behavior. Consider this a teachable moment.

2. The sad fact is that your hobbies, your lifestyle, your chosen associations, your style of dress, your interests, and pretty much anything you do are subject to ridicule from people around you. The more you deviate from whatever is the societal norm, the more you can expect to get some negative attention. Should it be so? Nah. But is it so? Yes. There needs to be some recognition of this.
Even so, let me refer you back to item #1, which trumps this.

3. We need to get past the idea that some hobbies are only for boys, and some are only for girls. Most hobbies are gender-neutral until society weighs judgment. You like cars? Great. Work on cars. You play the violin? Awesome. Be the best at it that you can be. You love musicals? Fantastic. There are some powerful stories and songs worth anyone’s attention. Baseball’s your thing? Lovely. Go to town telling me about the ’86 World Series. You pwn noobs in video games online? Rock on. Be 1337 (‘leet’ as in ‘elite’ as in ‘highly skilled’). You find a cartoon both funny and meaningful? I’m glad you like it. Enjoy.
Which of the above are for boys and which are for girls? And who says so? And why should I care?
I care because see item #2, which we’re all going to have to deal with on some level when we discover how our interests line up with what society expects.

4. MLP is actually a great show on many levels. It’s got an edgy humor that admittedly is not for everyone, but each episode also has a moral story that never gets preached at the audience. Think Veggie Tales without the Bible references. The show IS marketed for young girls, but obviously can appeal to others because it’s done well. See item #3.

I know this is the “Viral Outrage of the Day” or whatever. Next week or next month, we’ll be talking about something else and this won’t matter.

I think those life lessons listed above do matter (except maybe #4). And I hope those are the sort of calm and reasonable approaches we can take when we all freak out and choose sides on the next debate.


Conditional Virtues

whatthePatience is a virtue.

And so are a lot of other things, it turns out.

Ancient Greece had four cardinal virtues: temperance, prudence, courage, and justice.

The Church has three: faith, hope, and love. Alternatively, some look at “the fruit of the Spirit” Paul put down in his epistles: love, joy, peace, patience, kindess, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.

Buddhism has its Noble Eightfold Path, Hinduism its Dharma or moral duty, Islam has a long list derived from the Quran, and so on.

Even Ben Franklin, no particular bastion of religious devotion, had his own list of moral virtues.

The key to virtues is that, without fail, they are meant to be practiced regardless of how someone else behaves.

We treat others with love even if they are hateful. We respond with kindness when someone snaps at us. When others would be arrogant, we strive to be humble; when others prove unreliable, we demonstrate diligence and faithfulness. Self-control and temperance do not depend on how wild or disciplined someone else may be.

We practice these virtues because they help us be our best selves. They give us the tools to respond to life’s struggles and difficulties with grace, maintaining dignity in spite of opposition.

Now our society is dealing with the debate over same-sex marriage and whether to recognize it as a right in America. Pitting long-standing religious traditions against the ability to openly express love and fidelity – that’s not just a spark near the fireworks. That’s a nuclear meltdown in progress. The trouble is there’s also a lot of prejudice and ignorance on the religious side, and there’s a lot of defensive lashing out due to past hurt on the same-sex marriage side – understandably so. On top of all that, there seems to be enough hate on both sides to go around.

Which is especially sad since we’re all supposedly talking about expressions of love.

There will always be political disputes and debates, but there doesn’t have to be so much vitriol in our rhetoric.

That brings me to this popular virtue I keep hearing about, called Tolerance.

Tolerance has come to mean that we must not only accept differences in others but also approve of them. When we speak of tolerating a thing, we simply mean acknowledging it, accepting the fact of its existence. I have pain in my foot following surgery. I can tolerate the pain. That doesn’t mean I approve of it. Even the term “acceptance” gets used as if to say “endorsement.” I accept marijuana is used throughout the United States and is even legal in some states. I do not endorse its use.

Equality means treating everyone with respect.
Equality means treating everyone with respect.

Treating each other as equals means tolerance is not a one way street.

If tolerance is indeed a virtue to which we should aspire, then it cannot be limited to those with whom we agree. We cannot demonize the other side as if everyone is either Westboro Baptist Church or NAMBLA. We cannot jump to conclusions and rush to judgment about what motivates supporters or opponents of same-sex marriage.

No, I don’t believe the activists are out to destroy the families. Most of them are just trying to have a family of their own. And no, I don’t believe most of the opponents think anyone is less than human or not worthy of dignity and respect, contrary to popular belief. Yes, there are too many bad apples. We tolerate their right to speech, even ignorant speech. And we counter their ignorance with prudence, temperance, and respectful disagreement.

We cannot justify intolerance and hatred toward others because “they were intolerant first.”

That’s not how virtues work.

“Do to others as you would have them do to you. For if you love those who love you, what credit is that to you?” 

Likewise, if we only tolerate the tolerant, then what sort of virtue is it?

We’re always going to have important discussions in America, on subjects where both sides are very passionate. We owe it to ourselves to focus our energy on the viewpoints, not the participants… on virtue, not venom.