Unitarian Universalists promote seven principles. The first principle is the inherent worth and dignity of every person. This week I was reminded that my eight year old is a far superior Unitarian Universalist than I may ever be. Because after she told me what happened to her on the school bus I was really struggling to see the inherent worth and dignity in one particular little girl.
She was crying when she came up to the front door so it took me a short while to get an answer. “Did something happen at school, Em?”
“Mom, she said I am a bad person. She said I can’t be a Girl Scout if I don’t believe in God. She said if I don’t have God in my heart than I have the devil in my heart.”
I wrapped my arms around her tightly while she caught her breath. And the words, the words that came tumbling from her lips next made me more proud than I have perhaps ever been. “I told them that I am a Unitarian. And that I do go to a church actually. And that my church says you can believe in whatever you want. I am a good person. I am. How could that God want to punish me when I didn’t even say anything mean when they were telling me that I was a bad person?”
The part of me that wants to start talking and never stop when I don’t know what to say exactly worked hard to stay quiet. The less I said the more she spoke and the more I realized I needed to say nothing.
“The Girl Scout pledge says God but so does the Pledge of Allegiance. You don’t have to believe in God to be an American so I don’t think you do to be a Girl Scout.”
I kept quiet. I was waiting for the shame, for the doubt, for the “what if they are right, Mom?”
“There is only one thing that I wish was different about our church. I wish it wasn’t in the woods. It’s kind of hiding and if we were right next to the road more people would know about us and more people would come because I bet a lot of people actually think that it is okay to believe whatever you want and just be a good person.”
She knows. She knows she is a good person. And it doesn’t matter what the Girl Scouts think. Or a kid on the bus. Or God. She just knows.
In the last year I have thought frequently about our first principle as it applies to others. I think about it in the moments that I try to apply my reality to another person and I see them coming up short. I remind myself that they are their own person, they live their own reality, they have their own inherent worth and dignity. It never dawned on me that if you believe in your heart of hearts in your own worth, in your own dignity, if you do not have self-doubt – it is so much easier not to condemn others.
My sweet Emily June, you have taught me more in your eight years than I may ever teach you. This can’t be your first rodeo, kid.
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Thank you for sharing your story. In case someone hasn’t let you know, the god in the Girl Scout pledge has an * and Allah, love, earth mother, etc can be substituted. Good luck to you and your girl.
Thanks! I did my homework and I am quite pleased with the Girl Scouts. Thank you so much for the well wishes.
The Divine Miss Em. Wise beyond her years…
You must be so proud of her! Such a complicated idea to try to understand, yet she sees it so clearly. Be a good person. Period. Shared this story with my girls :)
Dear Emily, I was a Girl Scout for 8 years, said the Pledge of Allegiance in elementary school without it occurring to me that “one nation under God” might mean that I had to believe in “God”, and didn’t have to battle the “you are going to hell” (because you are not Christian/baptized) until I was in high school. I am so glad my parents (Lutheran and Presbyterian by families) raised me as a Unitarian, and I know you are proud to be a UU. You are a VERY good person!
Thank you very much, Shauna. I’m glad I’m a Unitarian, too. I told my PE teacher that I’m a Unitarian and that means you can believe what you want to and she said “that is a very good religion to believe in.” I won’t be at church on Sunday because I am going to the beach but I will see you next weekend. Thank you so much.
It took me about twenty years longer to be almost as smart as your little girl. Good for her. I grew up catholic in a very “southern baptists” sort of area. I got told my Religion was wrong many times as a kid. I never responded until I got into high school when I told a girl “yours can’t be that good if it’s teaching you to not like mine.” I don’t know why I said that because I hated my Church. I hated it because I didn’t have a choice in whether or not I went. Now things are great because I choose what I want to believe, just like Em. She is a good person.
Cruelty in the name of god. Your girl is a much better person than I am. Because I’m thinking some very unkind thoughts right now….
As I said on Facebook “I really struggled with this. Because this kid isn’t a Mean Girl. She is just sharing what she knows to be true. Em said that she even told her that “I’m just trying to save you.” It was so hard to explain to my wide eyes girl. Eventually Emily came to understand and said “it’s sad that some kids don’t even get to decide what they really believe because they are just afraid that they are going to hell.” I was slack-jawed. Her compassion is enviable. I’ve got a lot to learn.”
You know, it isn’t the girl that I’m thinking unkind thoughts about. Grown people who distort the tenants of their faith to the point of teaching intolerance and exclusion and self righteousness and who teach those terrible things to children? Listen, I know there are wonderful people of faith out there-a high school english teacher comes to mind, one of the kids we went to high school with who is also one of my favorite people on this planet (DY), hell-the new Pope! But so much ugliness on this planet has been done in the name of god. And that ugliness has strongly influenced my own agnosticism. It seems that Em is a much bigger person than I am. She rocks, Kelly. You guys are doing good raising that one.
She might like earning her “My Promise, My Faith” pin and/or the UU Religious Recognition pin. We’ve had some issues for my daughter at her homeschool enrichment program, with kids trying to preach at her.
Kids only know what they’ve been taught. You’re obviously teaching yours well. It’s that other child’s parents I’d want to treat with something other than respect in your shoes.
Yes!! I looked those up and I think I will suggest to her that she pursue it.
You’re so spot on about kids just living what they know to be true. And really once I got past the sight of my kid in tears I couldn’t even be angry with the kid or her parents – it’s a cycle of believing what you’ve been taught. Em stumbled on some truth when she said that a lot of people would probably like to just be a “good person.” Sigh.
1) love the post. love little Em. love your recognition of the appropriate time to zip it and listen.
2) you can remain a good person. MQD can remain one with the buddha. But if you need someone to scare the cookies out of mean little girls that is what weird sort-of uncles are for.
Weird sort-of uncles is a great title.