Fortune: Life in the minority means endless lessons

Fortune: Life in the minority means endless lessons

August 26th, 2012 by Mary Fortune in Life Entertainment

My younger son, who is 7, came to me one day not too long ago and said this: "Did you know the president kills babies?"

I didn't ask him where he'd heard it. I know by now that, in this corner of the world, those words could have come to him from any number of places. The source doesn't really matter.

I held his small hands. "Sweetie, does that sound like it could possibly be true?"

He considered, shrugged. "I don't know. No?"

"It's not true, honey. The person who told you that was wrong. It's absolutely not true. The president believes that every woman has the right to decide what happens to her body and that she shouldn't be forced to have a baby if she doesn't want to. He believes that those decisions should be made by individuals, privately, and not by the government.

"If someone says that to you again, I want you to know that it's not true, and I want you to feel like you can say that. You can absolutely say that. OK? Does that make sense?"

He was getting bored. "I guess."

Of course it doesn't make sense. He's 7. Someone told my 7-year-old that the president -- the president he knows I voted for and will vote for again -- kills babies. Nothing about that makes sense.

Someone has also told my sons that they and their parents will burn eternally in a pit of flame because we sleep late and make pancakes on Sundays rather than sit in pews. They've been told that our cherished, goodhearted friends who want only to be free to marry the people they love are defective and immoral.

It scares and confuses them, and it makes me angry. But it also offers me, again and again, the opportunity to encourage my sons to stand up, always -- and to show the respect that we are sometimes denied.

"Why do people say things like that to us?" they ask me.

"They say those things because they believe them," I say. "They believe those things just as strongly as we believe the things we believe, and you have to respect their right to their beliefs. But you don't have to stay silent when you hear things you know are wrong. You can speak up for what you believe, just like they can."

How liberal you are depends largely on where you live. In Eugene, Ore., I'm probably a moderate by local standards. But I live here, in a state that blushed even redder in the 2008 presidential election than it did in 2004. In these parts, I'm a bona-fide left-wing radical.

"We may as well live on an alien planet for all the sense this makes to me," I marveled to a friend the day the lines snaked for blocks around the Chick-fil-A. "This is utterly bizarre."

It's probably a beneficial experience, living in a place where our values are challenged. But in some respects, it's also pretty grim. It's tough to thoughtfully articulate your views on reason and faith to people who harangue children with tales of eternal hellfire. It's a challenge to speak peacefully about civil rights and marriage equality with people who line up to buy fried chicken to prove ... what, exactly? That bigotry is something to be proud of?

But I'm grateful for the chance to show my children that being part of a minority doesn't mean you have to sit quiet and that it doesn't mean you have to apologize for what you believe.

My boys will be tested, and they'll be stronger for it. And that's nothing to be sorry about.

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