I can provide hundreds of examples of times I’ve behaved in a manner that directly opposes what I’ve told my children. Apparently, my husband is a few steps higher on the parenting evolution ladder than I am. He doesn’t always behave better than I do (although he probably does most of the time), but he’s generally less verbal about certain expectations for our children. That way, his behavior doesn’t seem quite as hypocritical.
I, on the other hand, am constantly setting standards that I can’t even begin to meet myself.
For example, ever since our children started talking, I insisted they use the words “please be quiet” instead of “shut up.”
Yet, I don’t do at all well with that particular language skill.
Recently, I was enduring a painful meeting during which a self-important person was holding forth as though his words were actually meaningful or of interest to anyone but himself. To survive the ordeal, I pretended to take notes while actually scrawling page after page of the words “Shut up. Just shut up.” A few times, I even added a less than flattering description of the person I wanted to be quiet.
But the words “please be quiet” are often inadequate. Quiet means hushed tones and soft voices. Quiet shows a lack of passion or emotion. And quiet doesn’t indicate disagreement when someone else’s words are hurtful or rude or simply pointless.
That’s why I haven’t been thinking “please be quiet” lately when people try to disguise their hate and prejudice with self-righteous statements and stupid jokes. Instead, I want to scream “just shut up” every time someone equates being poor with being lazy. But I haven’t.
I’ve held my tongue as tightly as the man gripping a snow shovel while he rode his bike through my neighborhood on Wednesday.
Wednesday we were supposed to get a blizzard. Schools closed. Government shut down. Businesses even changed their hours of operation. And even though all we got were a few inches of snowy slush, a lot of people with steady jobs and stable employment had a snow day.
The man on the bike didn’t have a day off.
He was looking for work shoveling driveways and sidewalks. He was offering his services to people who most likely judged him on his ragged appearance and his lack of a car. He didn’t have a truck to which he could attach a plow. All he had was a shovel and some muscle.
I’ve seen him selling his shoveling services on other snow days, but this past Wednesday was different.
I was leaving the neighborhood when he rode by me. He didn’t know where I lived or whether I was even a potential customer. I was simply some lady walking a German Shepherd on a cold and windy afternoon.
But, even though I had nothing to offer him, he slowed, gave me a wide smile and told me to enjoy my day. And then, balancing his snow shovel while pedaling his bike, he quickened his pace and was off.
That’s the exact instance I realized that maybe, instead of teaching my children to always say “please be quiet,” I should have been teaching them that sometimes standing up for those without a voice means shutting down those who speak against them. I should have been teaching them that there are times that polite isn’t as important as human rights. And I should have been teaching them that there are times when some people really do need to “just shut up.”