Carefully Taught


The lyrics of a song, Carefully Taught, struck me profoundly as we were sitting through a performance of South Pacific with our eleven year old son.  My primary consideration wasn’t the obvious prejudice of race which the lyrics are speaking to but it was the “you’ve got to be carefully taught” that captured my deepest reflection. My first thought was wondering what I am teaching our child that could cause him to hate and fear.  It was a chilling realization to ponder.  Here are the lyrics:

You've got to be taught

To hate and fear

You've got to be taught

From year to year

It's got to be drummed

in your dear little ear

You've got to be carefully taught


You've got to be taught

To be Afraid

Of people whose eyes

are oddly made

And people whose skin

Is a different shade

You've got to be carefully taught


You've got to be taught

Before it's too late

Before you are 6 or 7 or 8

To hate all the people

your relatives hate

You've got to be carefully taught


The character singing this song did not actually agree with the prejudice he was taught but he could not imagine a way to live in his life ignoring it. He truly believed his family would abandon him if he chose to be with this woman he deeply loved.  It occurred to me that perhaps the even bigger challenge in our humanity then the prejudices that we hold is passing our prejudices onto our children rather then accepting that they may want to live differently.

The obvious conflicting societal prejudices are one thing, and many of us can recognize the great challenges we face here, but what about the seemingly more subtle messages in conflict? Are we teaching our children to grow hatred and anger? We may not easily recognize this because we are confident in our “right” thought process as we teach them they are “wrong” in theirs but what part does this play in forming fear and anger in small and big ways?

There are those everyday conversations that don’t come with ease and grace and are perhaps harmless when standing as one but what about the culmination of many little harpings and conflicts that write on the souls of our children?  Do these add to the level of anger and fear that can no longer be managed but moves to strong emotions that may wreak havoc in families, businesses and societies not to mention their own internal chaos?

Where is the line of dictating to our children what we truly know would be better decisions for them and dictating what we want them to do over validating their authentic self? Clearly it is different for each of us but gaining clarity of why we are passing things onto our children is probably worth some thought to each of us.

When does it really matter regarding the college our children choose to go to, the length of their hair, the clothes they wear, their success in school, what they do with their free time, their political and religious beliefs, the food they eat…Perhaps it is the discussion itself that matters. Learning to have healthy dialogue so they can be heard, validated and understood seems like it may go a long way in writing love and possibilities on our children’s hearts rather then anger and hatred. Perhaps they have something to teach us about loving more and hating less, about healthy processing of anger through patience versus anger through rage. I suspect we were given each other to teach and learn many things together.

Perhaps it is time for us to reflect on what we were “carefully taught” and decide what is worth passing on to our children or what needs to be let go of. Or perhaps it is worth a conversation (or ten) to get truly connected to the love we want to share with the intention to help them to stay true to their own path as we try to do the same on ours. After all it seems like love is a wonderful thing to be “carefully taught”.

Michelle Grabanski Pohlad

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  • June Steiner
    commented 2016-09-10 12:03:11 -0500
    Michelle, your words belong in every family, school and church to help guide parents, teachers and other role models in helping children open to the beauty and richness of differences. Xoxxo
  • Julie Krull
    commented 2016-07-19 09:36:08 -0500
    Love, love, love this, Michelle! Thank you.

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