Recently I was in touch with my friend Ari Kohen, a professor of political philosophy at the University of Nebraska. From years of studying the topic of heroism, Ari has a great understanding of bystander behavior. He’s noted that though many people think of themselves as helpful in a moment of crisis, when the time comes, few are able to act. As Ari says, “standing up against injustice or rushing into danger is exceedingly hard to do in the moment.” In other words, it takes practice to develop your ethical muscle memory.
This is a powerful and accessible guiding principle for families. Let’s teach our children to make a habit of standing up ––or taking a knee–– against injustice. At first, it will probably feel uncomfortable. That’s natural. However, as muscle memory kicks in, it will become second nature.
How to do this? Call, email and text your representatives about the issues that are important to your family such as passing a clean DREAM act, protecting the National Parks, discrimination against women or unfair immigration practices. Write letters with your children outlining your concerns about climate change, access to health care, equitable education and more by using democracy.io. Bring your family to rallies, protests, and vigils. Use RESISTbot to build a habit.
Teach your children to speak out in the face of injustice in real time, not after the fact. Model speaking with kindness and empathy. Create bonds with people different from yourselves. Participate in volunteer opportunities, big or small, knowing that even small gestures make an impact.
You never know what can come from the conversations with your kids about the challenges we face. The idea for the app we recently released to the App Store was sparked when our four children ranging from a baby to elementary school age participated in last winter’s Women’s March in Redwood City and the Travel Ban protests at SFO. Inspired by many of the signs carried by protestors, we came up with the idea of building WalkWoke. WalkWoke helps you create, share, and/or print beautiful and impactful protest signs. This platform enables people to use art not only to promote empathy but also to cultivate an inclusive environment. Together, our family decided on WalkWoke’s mission statement:
WalkWoke promotes love & kindness, education & reason, equity & empathy, and tolerance & respect. We stand against hatred, violence, ignorance, and cruelty.
WalkWoke’s ethos squares with our solemn duty to develop future leaders with a rock-solid ethical core. In the end, we must teach our children the imperative of righteous resistance so that they will indeed have the needed muscle memory to act in the cause of justice.
Our civil rights moment is now. I’m calling on parents across the nation to model what it means to be a concerned, informed, and active citizen. Instead of wringing our hands about the challenges of parenting in the age of Trump, we can and must empower ourselves to take a stand. Not so long ago, complacency didn’t seem so terrible. Now we know that complacency threatens the fundamental values of our democratic society.