May 5th, 2010


The Difference Between Happiness and Sadness

Originally published at Big Ugly Man Doll. Please leave any comments there.

Recently I commented that Happiness is reading 200-yr-old poetry to your 7-yr-old daughter. The Reigning Queen of Pink and I are reading Sir Walter Scott’s The Lady of the Lake, which is one of my all time favorites, published in 1810. I read a bit of it to the Human Tape Recorder a few years ago, and she told me it was OK but she wished it had pictures. I wound up getting a 1910 version with gorgeous full color plates, which the RQoP is enthralled with.

Tonight I find I know what sadness is, although sadness may not really be enough of a word for it. The world has become more coarse since James Fitz-James first chased a stag in the forests of the Trossachs. Number One Son was called to the principal’s office today for using a school computer to draw a swastika.

Now in all of 3rd Grade, he’s been exposed to Nazis and their symbol in books and literature, specifically in the Indiana Jones movies and in Dr. Who, and likely in others I don’t have on the top of my head. The explanation he gave was that he wanted to see if he could construct the image correctly, free-hand with the mouse, on the computer. Remember that crazy means not having to sweat the details, like offending pretty much everyone in the civilized world. Crazy also means being on a first-name basis with the principal, who luckily understands him but worries that trying this again at the new school in 4th grade next year will get him in real trouble. She explained to him that the swastika is a very offensive symbol of hate, and called us to reinforce the message.

SOBUMD reiterated that the swastika is a very offensive symbol of hate when he got home. After dinner, having been briefed on the events of the day, I called him into my office. The first thing out of his mouth when I closed the door was, “Daddy, I know about the swastika is an offensive symbol already, Mommy told me!”

But learning the lesson from rote won’t really help him understand why he needs to never do this again. I started with one of my Rudyard Kipling books (Kim, in fact) and showed him the swastika there. Kipling used it as his personal symbol from the late 1890s through about 1933. You know, and I know, why Kipling would have stopped using what had been a symbol popular in Hinduism and a dozen world religions, in the mid-1930s. But he doesn’t. He knows that Hitler and the Nazis were bad, just as he knows Voldemort and the Death Eaters were bad. What he lacks is context – he knows the Nazis are always portrayed as villains, but he doesn’t know why.

As with his sisters and the illustrated edition, the lesson hits harder with pictures. So to make very, very clear something that he’s not going to learn in 3rd and 4th grade, I sat him on my lap and rolled through a well-done, graphic, piece on YouTube about the Holocaust, including pictures from the liberation of several concentration camps. And pictures of the children in them. The video clip mentioned all the groups that were targeted for death, including “anyone with mental defects.” I explained to him that this would have, at the time, included himself – he hadn’t put that together either.

It took about 7 minutes.

He won’t do that again.

But still, if Happiness is reading 200-yr-old poetry to your 7-yr-old, surely Sadness is having to show 70-yr-old hatred to your 9-yr-old.