Explaining terrorism is a difficult topic at any age. America was founded as a beacon of hope, where every man and woman’s dream could become a reality. A place where the inner sanctum of our souls were allowed to be free, and where one of your biggest dreams— to build a home and raise a family who could worship freely— could come true. And there was a concept, that wherever it was that you chose to build your home for your family, you would belong to a community built on the belief that neighbors should look after one another, and protect each other’s integrity.
It was in this scenario that many American children were afforded the opportunity to grow up and truly flourish. They had a true sense of safety, where their biggest worry was likely concerning lunch money or a school yard foe. In the safety of their classrooms, they built on dreams to become better men and women, to see more and learn more than their relatives had before them.
As our society has become more “modernized,” our children have in the most unfortunate ways been exposed to some very ugly aspects of society. In the second half of the 20th century, their innocence has been marred by tales of and exposure to crime, abuse, drug issues and hatred. As parents grappled with ways to explain these ugly truths to their children, they often had the advantage of a factual argument with which they could break down for them. “Good guys versus bad,” “Cops versus robbers.”
Many of the lessons parents passed on to their children— such as don’t steal, don’t hate, don’t hurt anybody— can be found in some form, scattered among educational tools. Children attending Sunday school learn early on in the Ten Commandments about the simplicity between right and wrong, and the importance of being a good, ethical human being.
So, don’t steal, don’t kill, don’t lie, etc.— it all seems simple enough. But in 2015, it’s become more complex than that. Now, things in America and around the world have changed, dramatically. Terrorism graces the cover of every magazine, newspaper and television broadcast, and we’re tasked with explaining one of the most complex topics we will ever face to our children: terrorism. It may be something that they understand as a word, but certainly not as a concept. We now send them to schools where lockdown drills and practices have become part of the norm. As parents, it is our responsibility to break down what this evil that they are practicing protection from truly is.
In doing so, we can’t lose sight of the importance of the basic lessons. There should be no discriminating against skin color, religion, culture. Doing so would go against the very grains of what our country is made of.
For those at a loss on how to begin this conversation with your child, I will share with you the way that I explained terrorism to my autistic son. What I told him was that God creates every human being the same way. He instills in each and every one of us, the ability to love one another, and the responsibility to care and look after one another. However, some can forget this, and instead of listening to what their God-made heart is telling them, they listen to others who have also forgotten.
I told him to think of a rose, and how one end of a rose is a collection of beautifully colored petals and a warm, loving smell, while the other end is a prickly stem full of thorns intended to cause pain, and holds no beauty. Then I explain that terrorism is when people lose their beauty, as if the rose was cut in half, and are left with only the prickly, thorny soul with the intent to cause pain. I told him that because these people have lost their inner beauty, they begin to hurt people without reason, without cause. It is not that they are envious, or want to steal anything; they are just left with the thorns inside that want to inflict pain onto others.
I told him, and I’ll tell you, that most people are not just a soul full of thorns, and that true beauty still exists all around us, but in today’s society, we must fight to protect what we have left. I know that many critics have mocked the act of prayer in the aftermath of these horrific events, but I told my son to continue to pray. And I told him that when he prays, to ask God to create more beautiful flowers on this earth, so that we can bring the true beauty of God back to light.