How do you explain terrorism to a child? A child who hears almost every day that there has been a bomb blast / shooting / ‘incident’ in Turkey / America / France?
How do you explain war, and refugees, and desperation?
Particularly to children who have so much, who are so sheltered, and whose parents, and parents’ parents have led equally sheltered and protected lives?
You would think, having lived my whole life in a country like South Africa, where one is faced with having to explain so much so often, that I would have a ready answer to this one. But I don’t.
I even have one of those books, Easy Answers to Awkward Questions. But for some reason, the authors didn’t consider that this was one of the things we would have to explain to our children at the tender age of 7, or 10. Go figure.
(I pause here to reflect, because I know how lucky we are to have escaped having to explain the likes of wars and terrorism to our children. I know that there are millions of people who have never had that luxury, and who also don’t have to explain it – because they live it every day.)
But still the question remains, how to explain something that by its very nature defies explanation? How does one explain the brutality that humans are willing to inflict on other humans, in the name of power, or religion, or money, or even sheer desperation?
In keeping with my ostrich-like tendency to bury my head in the sand, I have for the most part tried to avoid this topic of conversation. Not because I think my kids won’t understand. But largely because I, myself, don’t always understand.
Also, I don’t want my kids to grow up being afraid of what might happen. Scared of attending music concerts, of watching fireworks, shopping in the local mall, or even sitting on a beach. Just in case.
But I recently overheard a conversation that chilled me to the bone – not because it recounted another racial shooting, or random bomb blast – but because it made me achingly aware of the need to talk to our children about what is happening around us, and attempt to provide some kind of explanation. Virtually anything, you see, is better than what is being bandied around the playgrounds.
In fact, this particular child wasn’t even a child. She was a likeable, intelligent, thoughtful almost-woman, but when speaking about the recent terrorist attacks, her words were filled with bigotry and fear and more ‘them’ and ‘us’ than even Donald Trump can muster in one sitting.
I won’t repeat the conversation here, because the content wasn’t really of import – it was more the impact that it had on me, as a parent.
Because how do you explain the current reign of terrorism without creating bigotry, or fear of difference, or intolerance of other races, creeds or religions? Because you and I both know that we have enough of that here already.
I was mulling this over with a friend of mine not too long ago, when he looked at me with a small smile and told me I was “just like [his] wife”.
“You think too much, you over-analyse. These are not people from a specific race or religion, these are crazy people. That’s what I tell my boys. Just crazy people.”
Yes, it is a gross over-simplification. But that’s what children need. Easy answers to Awkward Questions.
(Actually, maybe that’s what I need too.)
I know that I need to tell my children about ISIS. And rest assured that – one day – I will educate them about the role that religion – all religion – has played in war across the centuries. But at the same time, I hope that I will teach them about the role that power, money and greed have played too.
Right now, however, thanks to my friend P, I will simply tell them that the terrible things we hear about on the radio on the way to school, are the work of Crazy People. Not nice crazy. Crazy Crazy.
And in this small way, I hope to prevent them from developing the ‘us’ and ‘them’ mentality that we South Africans should know better than to propagate in our own back yard.