"When you have kids of your own, then you'll understand." This was a common response to the many questions I had growing up whenever I didn't agree with my parents about something or whenever I didn't understand their point of view. I'd imagine this statement or some iteration of it can be heard across most every household in American at one time or another. Like so many of the predictable explanations parents regularly use on their children, this too seems to be true. However, one area of my life that I didn't expect to change after I became a parent was how I react to headline news. In short, I react much differently.
I remember standing in a Starbucks that I frequent on my way to work waiting for my order to be filled. As is my custom, I glanced through the copies of the New York Times and USA Today while waiting for my latte. It was on this day that I saw an image and headline that shocked me. The image was of a young Syrian boy, probably no more than 3 years old, lying dead on a beach in Turkey. The boy had died when the boat he and other refugees were on capsized while escaping a a civil war in their homeland. I had known about the Syrian civil war for years and had been learning of the growing refugee crisis, but this image impacted me in a way that I had never anticipated before. It haunted me for days. As a history teacher, I am used to seeing heartbreaking images from a bygone era that now fill the pages of our textbooks. However, never before had a single image of a tragedy hurt me so much. I was happy to get to work that day where I could think about something else.
Today, I had that experience again. I saw a tweet late last night that a child had been attacked by an alligator at Walt Disney World resort. I clicked on the link and an error page popped up. Obviously, I didn't know much information, but I thought "that's horrible," continued with my evening and went to bed. This morning I learned more when I saw the headline on CNN. While wading in some water near a luxury resort, a two year old boy was attacked by an alligator. His father struggled to free him, but the animal dragged the toddler into the lagoon. Despite extensive search and rescue operations, the boy's body was not recovered until more than 15 hours later. I spent the entire day thinking about that poor boy and his parents. I've been to Disney World many times, I've walked very near the beach where the attack took place. I can't imagine how the parents must have felt. They were on a family vacation to the "The Happiest Place on Earth" and experienced something unimaginably horrific. The situation was entirely different and had little in common with the image of the Syrian child on the beach. However, the feeling I felt was exactly the same.
I have discovered that since becoming a parent nearly two years ago, I'm affected by things differently than ever before. Obviously, we're all saddened when we hear about tragedy, regardless of whether or not we have children, but the kind of sadness I feel is certainly different than before I was a father. There is something about having a child of your own that changes the way you look at all children, in fact all people in general. If find myself far more sympathetic to the suffering of others, regardless of whether or not their situation has any real impact on me. You would do anything for your own child, which makes you want to do more for others. You understand the anxiety that you feel the first time your infant has a fever and you can't even comprehend the sense of helplessness and loss that a parent must feel when they lose a child to illness or accident. It's as if God uses parenthood to help us better understand love, compassion, empathy, and a plethora of other emotions. Perhaps He uses them to not only make us more human, but to draw us closer to Him and see the world as He sees it: heartbroken in times of suffering, joyful in times of celebration. Maybe none of this made any sense to you, but then again "you'll understand when you have kids of your own."
Recently, I completed my graduate studies at Indiana University Southeast (Go Grenadiers!) earning a Master of Science in Secondary Education with a concentration in technology. That's just a fancy way of saying that I went to school for a few more years and learned a few more things. However, simple as it may seem, I am a fairly proud of my accomplishment. As a result, I felt it was time to update my resume. After all, I've got a few extra letters to put beside my name.
The implication it seems is that by furthering one's education, one is more qualified to complete the tasks associated with one's profession. When I walk into a doctors office I get a sense of security knowing that my physician has completed years of rigorous training and education. The letters by his or her name let me know that the person treating me is qualified to address my needs. In the coming weeks, we'll be having some work done to our house. Before the first nail is hammered into place, I want to know that my contractor is licensed. Heck, even in my faith walk I would value the guidance of those who have been professionally trained. Want to sell your house? Find someone who is not only licensed to sell real estate, but also has a track record of getting the job done. In short, education and experience create expertise.
All of this should seem rather obvious, but in our current political and social climate, it seems that Americans have a distaste for those who know what they're talking about. People who have a level of expertise are viewed as elitist, crooked, or part of the establishment. Americans tend to value the opinions of those that speak the loudest rather than those that speak with authority.
When a 3 year old child fell into a gorilla enclosure at the Cincinnati Zoo, trapping him with a large, agitated silverback, a heartbreaking decision was made to shoot the animal in order to save the child. In the days that followed, suddenly everyone with access to social media became on a primate behaviorist. Obviously, the gorilla was comforting the child and posed no threat. It doesn't matter that they people who made the decision to kill the animal have spent a career working with these creatures. It doesn't matter than a majority of well known animal experts agreed with the decision the of the zoo, people on social media remember how gorillas raised a young Tarzan, so their opinion should count just as much as Jack Hanna and Jeff Corwin.
The distaste for expertise and education is particularly evident within the world of science. Ask a conservative politician about climate change and their answer is usually "Listen, I'm not a scientist." No, you're not and neither am I. This is why we need to rely upon the expertise that such individuals possess. If an overwhelming majority of scientists agree that climate change exists and is a result of human activity, I'm inclined to believe them. Still, many do not. According to the doctors the world over, there is zero evidence that vaccinations are linked to autism and yet the myth remains prevalent on social media. Why? Because American's don't trust expertise. Heck, we even have a major political party's candidate for president who argues against vaccinations on national tv and no one seems to bat an eye. After all, in America everyone is entitled to their opinion. Perhaps we confused the fundamental right to express an opinion with an insistence that all opinions must be given equal respect.
Speaking of politics, there was a time when experience and expertise were required before individuals would even be considered for public office. With rare exception, all of our former commanders-in-chief came to office with a wealth of experience. Jefferson, Madison, Monroe, and John Quincy Adams had all been Secretary of State before being considered for the highest office. In the years that followed, experience in the legislature or governorship was considered a bare minimum before being nominated. Those engaged in public service used to take a predictable path: State legislators wanted to become Congressmen. Congressmen wanted to become Senators. Members of the Senate had their eyes on cabinet or a governor's mansion. From this extremely qualified, proven, and experienced group of public servants a presidential candidate was chosen. As much as some would like to deny it, the Founding Fathers and Framers of the Constitution were a group of highly educated, elite, professional politicians. Today, American's want candidates with a blank resume. They want an outsider. Experience means you're out of touch or part of the establishment. A nuanced understanding of foreign policy, economics, or even the Constitution is considered a liability. It boggles the mind.
Maybe there is a very basic explanation. People only want to rely upon the expertise of others when it doesn't step in the way of their world view. All of us hold deep ideological beliefs about some issue: faith, politics, economics, or something else. When the opinion of someone who is more knowledgeable about a subject seems to contradict something that we believe, we are less inclined to believe them. Against such people, the argument is useless. Sometimes I'm such a person. However, I tend to believe that all of us would be a bit better off and a bit more understanding if we had the courage to admit that sometimes we don't know what we're talking about.
Derek Trent Ashcraft
A place to discuss, among other things, politics, culture, food, faith, and nonsense.