Every night, when Little Guy is asleep, I sit with my seven-year-old daughter and read books or play Legos. Recently she asked me about Ferguson. Until now, we didn’t really talk about violence or racial issues around our children because they are still pretty young. Our family and friends are pretty diverse so my daughter hopefully learns something positive from that.
But at school she told me that another girl told her that a policeman was going around killing “thousands of dark-skinned people”.1 She asked me if that was true.
That was a hard question to answer. I don’t remember exactly what I said but I think this is what I told her.
I told her that, yes, a policeman did kill a young, black man recently and a lot of people were sad and angry about it.
She asked me why he killed the young man and I told her I wasn’t sure. I told her that the young man and a police officer got into a fight, and the policeman shot him.
She asked me why policeman kill people. I told her that sometimes they have to stop dangerous people but then I told her that sometimes they make a mistake too. I don’t know what happened here.
She told me it was wrong for policemen to kill black people because they are the same as everyone else. I told her she was right, but I also told her that the Buddha taught us that killing anyone (or anything) is wrong. And so, regardless of what actually happened, or why, the fact that the young man was killed is sad and his parents are very sad now.
Now, you might be wondering why I said what I said to my daugther.
First, as the Buddha taught in the Dhammapada:2
129. All tremble at violence; all fear death. Putting oneself in the place of another, one should not kill nor cause another to kill.
130. All tremble at violence; life is dear to all. Putting oneself in the place of another, one should not kill nor cause another to kill.
131. One who, while himself seeking happiness, oppresses with violence other beings who also desire happiness, will not attain happiness hereafter.
132. One who, while himself seeking happiness, does not oppress with violence other beings who also desire happiness, will find happiness hereafter.
Thus, I disagree with those who say that Mike Brown deserved it for whatever reason. It is always better to restrain oneself from taking life if at all possible. If there really was no alternative and Darren Wilson did the only thing he could, then even if he is blameless, he still bears the karmic responsibility of killing someone, and has to carry that with him for the rest of his life. So, it’s a lose-lose situation. I wanted my daugther to understand this.
Second, as the Buddha taught:
A [fully enlightened] monk whose mind is thus released does not take sides with anyone, does not dispute with anyone. He words things by means of what is said in the world but without grasping at it.
In other words, the Buddha taught that it is best not to take sides in disputes or arguments. Regardless of what I think happened, I wasn’t there and thus I am not sure. I do believe certain things, but I also could be completely wrong. People have a tendency to project their own idea of “what happened” based on their background, beliefs, etc. But none of this has any substance. It’s all in one’s mind. Worse, people argue over it, and project these beliefs onto their own children.
So, I don’t want my daughter taking sides in the dispute either. When she’s older, she can investigate for herself, and make an informed decision, but for now she’s just too young. Further, I want her to have a healthy respect for all people, be cautious in taking sides, and respect life over death.
Other parents might have to talk about these things with their kids, and I hope those parents will try to focus on goodwill, equanimity and respect for all life.
P.S. See the Metta Sutta for more.
P.P.S. Double-post today. Catching up on things. 🙂
1 My daughter doesn’t really understand different ethnic groups yet. She tends to see them as just people with variations in skin-tone.
2 Apologies to readers who’ve seen this quote before. It’s worth re-posting, I think.