The Difference Between Happiness and Sadness

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.

7 Comments
  1. Kirsty Sayer says:

    This is award winning stuff. How do you not have a nationally syndicated column? How? That really should be rectified.

    So much to say, but I can’t begin to touch it as eloquently as you have.

    Your boy is a gem. As are his parents.

  2. julia Reedy says:

    How sad that at such a young age your child has to learn about hatred and prejudice. But, cudos to you for teaching him that this is bad. Cudos to you for teaching him love, instead.

  3. Aunt LoLo says:

    Just popped over from Kirsty’s blog. And you’re right…that pretty much sums up happiness and sadness right there. Thank you for a full heart tonight.

  4. Anne Goldstein says:

    Really amazing. My husband is a very animated speaker when addressing this subject, his extended family is much smaller now because of the Holocaust. Fantastic way to explain it to someone so young, who doesn’t know that Grandma or Grandpa or Daddy or Mama for loving Daddy would be considered someone unworthy or this world.

  5. Debi says:

    what a great post…would love to know the source of the youtube…my third grader also had a albeit brief desire to draw swastikas. It has been nipped but he is very visual and the youtube you describe would be good for him to see.
    Thanks again for the post..

  6. admin says:

    @Debi – A few people asked about the specific video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ps64xxJq0mg&feature=related

    It’s a clip someone put together for a college class; not anything very hi-tech or academic, and I left the sound off while I showed it to my son. It was about right for a crash course in “here’s why this upsets people” for his emotional/intellectual speed.

    And I caveated this to him with the explanation that the bodies he sees on TV (he watches a lot of Medical ER and “Dr. G, Medical Examiner” shows) are often actors, whereas what he was about to watch really happened to real people.

    And of course I didn’t even show him the comments. The internet is really really great for trolls and idiots.

  7. Richard F. and Leslie A. Lang says:

    We are proud parents every day – but today is special. Thank you for being such a wonderful parent to a wonderful grandson.

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