I think everyone’s seen and cried over photos of dead children and adult refugees, washed up on Mediterranean beaches. My friends seem to splitting into 3 mind-groups:
1. ones who sympathise, but don’t see it as being something the UK should be involved in:
“Too many chancers amongst the refugees, wanting to come here for benefits and a free house”
“They should get help from the first safe country they get to – not us”
2. ones who are heartbroken, but don’t see how they can help:
“What good is signing a petition? What can I actually do?”
3. ones determined to do something concrete to help, collecting supplies, aid and money to be sent directly to refugees in Calais and the rest of Europe:
“Never mind an EU butter mountain – I’m adding to the Calais toothpaste mountain!”
“God, can you imagine having your period when you’re stuck living in an underpass with hundreds of other people, and you’re totally destitute?”
“If the Government won’t do anything, I will; I can’t sit and do nothing”
I’ve been starting to talk to the minxes about it. It’s difficult trying to hit the right level – baldly saying that kids like them are dying either because they stayed in their country or because they’ve not been able to get to safety when fleeing, is a bit much for a 5 year old to hear!
Why am I talking to my kids at all? Well, it came up in a long car journey conversation…
Midi’s feeling a little bit victimised by kids at school teasing her because her best friend happens to be a boy (“Oooo, you fancy him! He’s your boyfriend!”) Till now she’s chosen to ignore the silly tattle and rise above it, but is now finding it hard because in her eyes it’s relentless. So we talked about how sometimes it’s best to ignore stuff you don’t like, but sometimes you do need to stand up for yourself. We discussed things she could say back. I suggested statements she could challenge her tormentors with (and she said they were far too offensive and that I should keep my ideas to myself. I agreed that was a fair call!)
At the same time, Maxi was moaning about being stuck in the Rights Respecting Group at school, instead of the fun Gardening, Eco or Enterprise Groups that she’d hoped for. “We just get to make posters about UNICEF”, she grumbled. I reminded her about when she’d been in the Pupil Council as a P1 and had won the Headteacher’s Award for Citizenship – that she’d spoken her mind and suggested ideas to help others, and how proud I’d been (and am) of her empathy. I pointed out that she’d been able to shape the group somewhat, to make it more useful and fun just by voicing her opinions. (I also reminded her that she couldn’t judge the group on one short session, but that’s another story entirely).
I asked whether Maxi could stand up for Midi in the playground and talk down anyone teasing her sister. Maxi fretted about getting into trouble from her teacher for saying unkind things to other kids. “But what if that kid is being unkind to your sister?” I challenged. Maxi looked torn.
So that got us on to what happens when people collectively choose to keep quiet and just let wrong things happen. I told them about the Civil Rights Movement in America in the 60s. We talked about how many countries actually have to have laws now safeguarding people with different coloured skin, religion, sexuality, gender and disabilities because as a group, humans don’t seem to be brave enough to stand up to discriminating individuals and challenge their behaviours. We talked about how sometimes you have to weigh up the consequences of putting your head above the crowd and saying aloud, “That’s not right!” with what’ll happen if you just ignore it. Sometimes it’s best to say nothing, sometimes it’s not.
“You 3 children have been blessed with good brains. I hope I can teach you to use them properly and to judge right from wrong. I hope you can decide when to be brave and stand up and speak out against wrong-doing. If you do, I’ll always back you. Always. Even if you get into trouble”, I said. And gulped – I saw a suspicious light shining in Midi’s eyes, which may not be a good thing…
So then that took me onto refugees fleeing Syria in their millions, dying in their thousands, and why people in the rest of the world are upset and angry about it. Some people are angry about what their countries are doing about it, and some are angry about what their countries are NOT doing about. Who’s right? Who can know? We talked about what we can do, and I told them about some people locally collecting clothes, tents, toiletries, money, etc. I told them that the problem won’t go away by just sheltering the millions – there needs to be both short and long-term help. And sometimes it’s seems like such a huge problem that lots of people don’t know where to start or don’t think they can do anything, so feel frozen. And do nothing.
That then took us on to World War 2 (by this time we were home and sitting at the dinner table with a very perplexed-looking Boss) and how just escaping to the geographically nearest country didn’t exactly help lots of Jews… We talked about how Britain tried to be a bit understanding and did nothing at the start, then waded in, and what some of the consequences were.
I didn’t talk about Britain and America’s involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan because we would have got bogged down even more in discussing when/whether it’s proper to impose your ideas of what constitutes right and wrong. That can wait for a few years (!)
I think most of it went over their heads, and I’m dreading to think what bits stuck and that they’re now parroting in school today. But for me:
Short-term – I’m donating some supplies locally.
Medium-term – I’ve signed petitions asking for my country to accept more refugees.
Long-term – I’m trying my absolute best to bring up my children, and therefore the next generation, to empathise with their fellow humans and to be brave enough to speak out against wrong. I hope they become wise enough to judge when speaking up is enough and when taking action is merited.