Accidents, bad decisions, stupid mistakes, wrong place/wrong time situations...these worries plague every decent parent. But how those worries must compound exponentially for parents of kids who face racism or homophobia or xenophobia on top of every other curve ball that life can throw.
Cruelty and ignorance and hate in varying degrees have always been passed off as acceptable in our world. Collateral damage. From bullies in the schoolyards to genocide. I don't understand one bit of it, but I know that it's true.
There is a certain level of hate that we tolerate as simply the price of doing the business of living, I guess. And while I don't think we should teach our kids to be thin-skinned whiners who can't handle rejection or adversity or consequences, much the opposite in fact, I do believe that there is a monumental difference between toughing up our kids and teaching them that hate and ignorance are tolerable.
In the case of Donald Williams from the story above, I cannot believe that there was not one person in that entire dorm who stood up to these idiots. When they saw the nazi symbols and the confederate flag and the hate speech written on walls and heard the awful name calling and taunting and saw the freaking bike lock around this kid's neck...there was not one level headed, compassionate person brave enough to do the right thing, even at the risk of becoming a target themselves? Not one?
We are all ignorant as kids. Although I don't remember a specific instance, I'm sure I saw bullies on my playground and did nothing about it. I'm sure I called names and was awful to someone in elementary school. But as adults, even in our late teens and twenties, we can no longer claim ignorance. By then most of us have experienced bullies in some form and have felt the deep wounds they leave in their wake.
By then we know better and should do better. Yet many of us still look away.
When Donald and his family spoke up and took the men to court, the jury decided that misdemeanor slaps on the wrist were sufficient. In hate cases like this, my mind always wanders to Matthew Shepard. How many stood by and allowed that barbarity to happen? Or on a macro level, slavery, civil abuses, the Holocaust. Those things can't happen unless people look the other way.
Silence and inaction are just as bad as doing the damn thing yourself and, any way you look at it, that's cowardice.
It comes down to this. Bullies are aplenty and we all, our kids included, will face them at different points in our lives. We thicken our kids' skins, build them up, teach them that our worth is not hinged on how others see us but on how we see ourselves through God's eyes. But when someone attacks a person's skin color or culture or sexuality, elemental aspects of who a person is, it wounds deeply. When that hate and fear manifest physically, when the bullies graduate from spewing words to using violence, those wounds turns into fissures.
Those fissures erode the most basic principals of humanity - the moral fibers that connect us all.
And that is intolerable.
We are drilling this into our kids even now so that, someday, when they are inevitably bullied, see someone else being bullied, or feel the urge to bully someone themselves, they will stop and think and feel their way around the situation to make the right decision.
That's how the fissures are healed. That's how the fabric of humanity is sewn back together. Stitch by stitch, minute by minute, one man taking a stand, one kid making a good decision, compassionate souls living every day with their eyes wide open, doing the brave work of the right thing.