Phee: The 1st amendment is the freedom of expression one, right mom?
Me: Yeah, why?
Phee: Nothing, I was just thinking about the story I’m writing.
Me: What were you thinking about?
Phee: Well, if the 1st amendment means jerks can say terrible and wrong things, it means the rest of us can tell everyone what jerks they are and tell them what we think of them right?
Me: Well, yes. But, you should remember that there are rules and laws that tell you how and when, from a social and even a legal standpoint.
Phee: Are you saying that we shouldn’t stand up when people are doing things that are wrong.
Me (gives the mom “Really? Did you really just ask me that?” look): Nope, not what I’m saying at all. I’m saying that when you choose to stand up to jerks and bullies and bigots and all of the ills of humanity, you have to make a decision. What is what you are fighting for worth? Is it worth your life? Your job? Being arrested? Being ostracized? Being harassed by more jerks? Because these are the things that happen to people that are on the right side of history, especially when they are on the right side of history too soon for the sensibilities of most of society. You have to figure out what things are most important to you, and how much you are able and willing to deal with the consequences of how far you choose to go. You are one person, you can’t tilt at every windmill in the world.
Phee: That sounds hard.
Me: It can be hard. Some fights are easier than others because they are less controversial or have more sympathy from the public. You have to remember that not all laws are moral, or for that matter logical. The legal system, the government, its made by people. People are flawed…some of them are all sorts of fucked up…and some of them are wonderful. Most of us are all of those things at some point in our lives, and sometimes all at once. When you decide to stand up for what is right, sometimes you are standing up to the law and to the people in the government.
Phee: What if you get arrested?
Me: Phee, some of the best, most important people in history have been arrested for that–Martin Luther King Jr., Gandhi, Nelson Mandela, Wangari Maathai, Alice Paul…we even have a congressman from GA who has been arrested lots of times for that. And, for every person whose name you know, there are hundreds and thousands more that you don’t know. There hasn’t been a movement to bring rights to people from whom they’ve been kept where someone hasn’t been arrested.
Phee: So…if I get arrested when I get older for standing up to something bad, you would be okay with that?
Me: Well, if it’s standing up to protect someone or someone’s rights or to protect something that is right from something that is wrong, whether its a place or an idea…yeah. There are limits though–I wouldn’t be okay with you killing or hurting anyone, except in self-defense, or for participating in the destruction of someone’s home or business. But otherwise, yes.
(conversation falls silent as cogs turn in Phee’s brain)
Phee: What does “tilting at windmills” mean?
Me: Well, have you ever heard the story of Don Quixote?
Me: I guess a trip to the library is in order then!