My kids get in trouble if they call each other names. They lose precious screen time for saying “idiot,” or “stupid,” or (my personal favorite), “pig-head.”
Screen-denial happens for shoving as a response to frustration, or for bellowing “shut up,” or for clambering up on the counter and rifling through the cabinets in order to find the last two sugar cookies that mommy was hoarding for herself. There will be no counter-clambering in my house, dammit. (And yes, screen-denial happens if one of them happens to emulate
mommy daddy and let fly a curse word. Hypothetically, I mean. If we were to curse and if they were to emulate us.)
Eleven-year-old Liam, flush with the power only a pre-adolescent can have, yammered on last week about freedom of speech and how he bloody well will express himself in the thought that his brother is THE WORST BROTHER EVER.
I said no, actually, that to express yourself for purely malicious or destructive purposes is an abuse of that freedom. And then I did some kind of blah blah blah about the golden rule, and then a little song-and-dance blahbitty blahbitty about the need for mutual respect, and that maybe if he stopped saying his brother is an idiot, his brother would stop trying to hit him.
Both boys burn with the conviction that I am far more lenient with the other, that THE OTHER ONE never gets in trouble, that THE OTHER ONE is loved more, and that my standards are wildly unfair, not to mention unattainable.
So I struggle to turn my children into civilized beings, and then I look at the tragedy in Libya, the riots in Egypt and now Yemen. It makes me wonder if we are living in the death throes of civil discourse. Maybe I should just let my kids whack each other on the head when they’re pissed off; maybe shoving and hurling insults really is the way to go.
Perhaps I’ve been too long in the world of the very young, but I can’t help but think about turning the tables. I mean, what would Terry Jones or Steve Klein have done if someone had made a video portraying Jesus as a whoremonger, a lover of young girls, a bastard, a drunk? Would they have done the Christian thing and turned the other cheek? What about the mysterious “film-maker” (with apologies to film-makers everywhere) who made the video that insulted Islam? Or the dude who thought it would be a good idea to translate this video into Arabic, just to make sure that it got some airplay?
No, Mitt, I’m not apologizing, and no one should condone the violent responses to this video (although in Libya, it looks increasingly as if the attack had been long-planned and the video just a convenient excuse).
But underneath all this sadness and frustration (yet another nail in the coffin of can’t-we-all-just-get-along), I am having a disconcerting reaction. I find myself wanting to shut down the possibility that the Terry Jones, and the Steve Kleins, and the other purveyors of hate in the U.S. can cloak future bile in the drapery of “free speech.” Yeah, yeah, free speech as cornerstone of liberty and all that, but you know? Really? In our house, when freedom of speech means calling your brother a pig-head, you get sent to your room and your beloved “Star Wars the Old Republic” game gets turned off.
If you’re using “freedom of speech” and “Christian values” to incite violence, mayhem, and fear, I’m pretty sure you’re not following Christ’s example. As for free speech? I’m pretty sure you’re doing that wrong, too.
*full disclosure: in the photo, the boys are actually playing a game, not trying to kill each other. although true, there is a fine line between the two.