Knuffle Bunny, Worlds Expanding, and the Danger of the Single Story

If you have young children, know young children, or have ever been in the children’s section of a bookstore, it’s likely that you are familiar with the books of Mo Willems. Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus or Elephant and Piggie are basically household names. When my boys were young, they were obsessed with the Knuffle Bunny books. You might be familiar with them, but if you aren’t, they center on a character named Trixie (based on Mo’s daughter in real life) and her beloved green stuffed animal, Knuffle Bunny. The second book in this sweeping trilogy is called Knuffle Bunny Too, and it’s been on my mind this week.

In Knuffle Bunny Too, Trixie’s world is about to expand – she’s going to school for the first time. But when she brings her beloved Knuffle Bunny to school, she learns that he’s not the only Knuffle Bunny in the world. A fight ensues, a mix-up occurs, and a middle of the night rendezvous saves the day.

I pulled this book off the shelf as a mentor text for something I’m working on, but when I reread it, I saw this metaphor for something we are experiencing collectively on so many levels in this country. This week, our newsfeeds have been full of women (and some men) sharing their experiences with sexual assault, sexual harassment, and the smaller, insidious ways women walk through the world in de-escalation mode daily. In my small corner of the world, most of the conversation has been productive, but I’ve also seen a number of posts derailed by people chiming in to negate someone’s personal experience. These statements, in short, say “That’s not my experience, so therefore it’s not reality.” And this made me think of Trixie.

Trixie, like most young children, started off with a small world – her immediate family. Her world, like most children’s, grows as she gets older. It begins to encompass neighbors, friends, perhaps church, then school. As she grows older (spoiler alert!) it will even encompass foreign travel. This isn’t exactly revelatory stuff here – all our worlds expand as we age.

But what I’m seeing right now, what I’m struggling with, is how many of us seem stuck in a childlike mindset, unable to accept something as real because it hasn’t entered our personal world yet. Trixie assumed her Knuffle Bunny was the only one in the world because she hadn’t seen another one, but when her world expanded, she was able to accept that it did, in fact, exist. But so many of us don’t want to see the other Knuffle Bunny. When someone says, let me share my experience with you, if it doesn’t match what we have already experienced ourselves, we are rejecting it as fake. Instead of accepting that perhaps our own reality is limited, and being open to listening, we’d rather maintain our bubble.

From a psychological perspective, this is the height of narcissism. The insistence that the world’s objective reality matches our small existence couldn’t be more self-centered. And while it’s natural for young, growing children to have a self-centered view of the world until they go through the stages of development that expand their thinking, it’s not okay behavior for adults. It’s harmful, it’s shallow thinking, it displays a desire to remain ignorant, it lacks empathy and imagination.

I know we can do better. We can be better listeners. We can take baby steps in this direction by resisting the urge to insert ourselves into someone else’s narrative. If a friend tells a personal story online, and we can simply listen without responding. If the story doesn’t match our own experiences in the world, instead of writing it off as false, perhaps we can try expanding our worldview to include it as part of a bigger story.

I’m going to leave you with this TED Talk that I share at least once a year because I believe it is that important. I believe in the power of story to connect us, but we have to be willing to listen.

Peacemaking

Peacekeeping is not the same as peacemaking.

Peacekeeping involves silencing marginalized voices to create an absence of conflict. It values lack of conflict over true justice.

Peacemaking knows there can be no real peace while there is injustice. It acts in love towards the creation of true peace, but it does not silence the oppressed and it faces conflict head on in order to make right what is wrong.

Peacekeeping seeks unity for unity’s sake, even if that unity is merely an Instagram filter slapped over a broken situation.

Peacemaking insists we remove the filter and do the hard work of reconciliation, so that we don’t need a filter in the end. The actual photo will made beautiful by true unity.

Peacemakers, take heart. There will always be those who will choose the absence of conflict over true peace, but know your choice to make peace instead of keeping it is the work that changes the world.

I Lift My Lamp

To say that my heart is broken feels like a trite understatement. I just looked at the news after a migraine-induced nap, and even though I knew this was coming it still hurt like hell to read the details.

I’m not going to rehash my support of refugees in this post. Here’s a link to an essay I wrote a couple of years ago. I feel the same now as when I first wrote those words. But I’m also not going to stop talking about this. Ever.

We ask the boys how they want to serve our community every week, and we take at least one action step to do so. Last week, we set aside a full day of service. One of the things the boys were concerned about was what would happen to refugees seeking asylum in the US when the new administration took office. I didn’t mince words. I told them that our country would shortly be banning some refugees for an unknown amount of time. Then I told them that we would continue to support those refugees in camps on the ground through our financial donations. I told them that we would keep supporting the refugees that are already here. And I told them we’d never stop advocating for those without a country to call home.

So we did this tiny thing, and we looked up the current needs of refugees settling in St. Louis, and on that wish list was tea pots. Liam loves tea, so naturally he gravitated to that. We bought a few and made these tags for them, ready to deliver them to our dear friends who set up apartments for refugees upon their arrival. They are still sitting in my garage.

It’s unconscionable what happened today. On a day set aside to remember the horrific murder of millions of Jewish people because of their religion, some that our country turned away at our shores during WWII, our president signs an executive order to ban specific refugees from our country based in part on their religion. If this breaks your heart too, please join me in one of the many ways you can support refugees. Donate to organizations that are helping refugees around the world:

https://www.whitehelmets.org/

http://www.doctorswithoutborders.org

http://www.preemptivelove.org

Read about the lives of people fleeing violence:

http://www.humansofnewyork.com/tagged/refugee-stories

Educate yourself on the vetting process for refugees and the facts about refugee crime rates (which are extraordinarily low):

https://www.washingtonpost.com/posteverything/wp/2017/01/26/trump-says-syrian-refugees-arent-vetted-we-are-heres-what-we-went-through/?tid=sm_tw&utm_term=.90b9366d468e

http://time.com/4116619/syrian-refugees-screening-process/

Educate yourself on how this actual impacts our national security:

https://m.thisamericanlife.org/radio-archives/episode/607/didn’t-we-solve-this-one

https://www.washingtonpost.com/amphtml/news/checkpoint/wp/2017/01/27/if-trump-issues-an-executive-order-on-refugees-it-could-alienate-some-of-americas-staunchest-allies-its-interpreters/

Attend a march or vigil to show your support:

https://www.facebook.com/events/650320751796304??ti=ia

Donate or volunteer with a local refugee agency:

https://www.iistl.org

http://www.irwp.net

We are a nation of immigrants, of refugees, of native indigenous people, of ancestors of slaves. We are many things at once, never monolithic, never one race or one religion. That is our legacy and our future. This is an ugly chapter but this story is not finished. However, we have to keep writing it together.

“Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”