I grew up in a conservative ward on the east side of Salt Lake City. It’s not the richest part of town, but it definitely qualifies as somewhere between middle- and upper-class. The houses run for several hundred-thousand dollars (in Salt Lake they’re a lot). There is one small apartment complex on the edge of the ward boundary, next to a busy street that’s pretty run-down. The neighbors are concerned about this and have been pressuring to have them torn down and rezoned for homes for a while now.
A few years ago my dear mother called the complex, with its peeling paint and lower-class clientele, "scary." I replied with the obvious: just because they aren’t nice or because the people who live there don’t dress the same, doesn’t make them scary. Her reply? "When you have your own kids, you’ll understand."
I’d long ago gotten used to this response, not just from my mother, but from many people in my ward. Wary of my apparent liberal streak, it was something teachers and leaders told me often. If I suggested R rated movies weren’t a problem, I heard about my future children. If I complained that the criminal justice system was too punative and not rehabilitative enough, my children were invoked to tug at my heartstrings. (No, I didn’t bring up these kinds of subjects in Church all the time. I was just an opinionated youth who wanted to talk about serious issues with grown-ups instead of running off to shoot squirrels–they said they were going hiking–with the other Boy Scouts.)
Now I have my own children, and not surprisingly, I haven’t morphed into the staunch Reagan-ite conservative my ward members insisted I’d become. With parenthood, I suspect you get out of it what you bring into it, just like most things. Conservatives like Sean Hannity will turn into Helen Lovejoy, screeching "Won’t someone please think of the children!" as an excuse to fry criminals in the electric chair. Quite the opposite, I remember holding my little boys and wondering why people turn out the way they do. Even the worst among us probably had someone hold them in their arms, cradle them, and look at them with love. And those that didn’t, can we be all that surprised they didn’t turn out so great?
I also look at my children and mourn the children that will starve to death today. That’s right – somewhere in the world a little boy or girl is going to die because they can’t find so much as a handful of food to eat. Some conservatives will look at their children, think about the children lost on 9/11, and insist we bomb the hell out of poor countries to ensure something like this never happens to us again. After all, we’ve got to maintain our greedy, entitlement-laden, overindulgent, lazy society or the bastards win! What would life be like if we can’t drive gas-guzzling Hummer’s on our way to shop with forklifts at warehouse stores? Perish the thought! But, I digress.
As I descend from my soapbox, I’d like to ask: What do your children teach you about the world? Do they make you feel more compassionate? Or do they make you feel guarded and concerned for their safety? A combination of both?