I am having a tough time this month with dinner conversation. The news is so complicated. Trying to explain the economy, or why Blago does what he does and is indicted (try explaining Grand Jury to an 8 year old) but Mayor Daley can lease off the parking meters and nothing happens to him. See we have spent years and lots of temple dues involving my kids in moral and ethical education so my kids really want to believe that the person making the most money or the person in charge DESERVES to be in the position they are in. They totally get the idea of justice. They want the world to be fair. Just. Righteous.
But then about when they grow a prefrontal cortex capable of abstract thinking, you have to explain to them how the world really works. The world ISN’T fair. Things rarely work out the way they are supposed to. Evil exists and goes on for a while before it is stopped. Good should but does not always win. Good people are not always the ones in power—I learned this at an early age in the world of work. I have worked since I was 11. I can count on one hand the number of good bosses I have had. Some were well meaning but incompetent, some were certifiably insane, some were just mean spirited. Mostly what I learned is do a good job anyway, no matter where you find yourself. We want to believe that the folks in power are better than we are, smarter, better, something, and that makes the fact that they can control us ok. But then you find out that mostly, they were just luckier. They may have been born higher up the food chain, they may have gotten more lucky breaks, they might be a man or a better color, or born prettier, so they get a better deal than you.
Grimm’s fairy tales are very good at the truth of this. Children in those tales survive truly horrible ordeals by being clever, or getting lucky by meeting a (usually magical) help mate. It always helps if they are nice people—being kind to the ugly old crone pays off. But those magical help mates are pretty sparse these days. Unfortunately, in real life, spoiled brats often lead privileged lives. Some bad people lead very nice lives.
And then there is the Holocaust. Today is Yom Hashoah, the day of remembrance for the millions of Jews, gays, people with disabilities, gypsies and people who just tried to help. My family attended the opening of the new museum in Skokie, dedicated not only to telling the story of what happened but to challenge us not to let it happen again. And we watched the Hallmark Hall of Fame about Irena Sendler. Even Elie Wiesel told us you cannot really answer the question why. Why is the world the way it is? I don’t have answers, and my children are full of questions.
Best to discuss the weather at the dinner table.