There’s been a lot of debating going on recently in the worlds that I live in. Arguments about keeping the British Guide Promise ‘the way it is’. Arguments about the religious discrimination cases brought into the European Court of Human Rights. Arguments about Gun Control (or lack thereof) in the USA. Gay marriage. Whether cycling should be taken out of the Olympics because of the doping scandals relating to Lance Armstrong (and quite a number of others) back in the late 90s/early 00s prior to the introduction of the ‘Blood Passport’. How to parent your children. Debates that get all kinds of weird combinations of issues all mixed in.
With it comes a lot of enmity between friends and strangers. Misunderstandings as people twist words and hear what they want to hear so they can argue back. Assumption making because we think if you believe x then it figures than you must then believe in y.
Last Friday night I made a confession to my friend who is expecting her first baby this spring. We were talking about childbirth, ways of coping through labour, breastfeeding, parenting, naming your children (something I fully confess to be very opinionated about) and so on. It was then I confessed that I was a closeted watcher of an American TLC channel show called 19 kids and Counting.
I’ll tell you how it happened.
I’m a Christian, and I’m a blogger and I’m a woman. There are plenty of those in the USA and so I’ve ended up reading a number of American Christian women’s blogs just because there are so many! It has to be said that the majority of them are also parents. And they blog about parenting, marriage and kids. I’ve been shocked by opinions and thoughts of some of the American Christians I’ve met in person and I just plain did not understand. I think the culture intrigued me because I do get annoyed at people just passing judgment and labelling all Americans as ‘stupid’, ‘ignorant’, ‘greedy’, ‘selfish’, ‘loud’, ‘melodramatic’, ‘over the top’. Because I am blessed to have a great deal of American friends and that’s not them at all! Did that mean that we totally agreed with each other or found each other’s upbringings or opinions strange? No. It just meant it was more complex. So when I continually kept seeing nasty or flippant comments about this family called the Duggars, I was so fed up with the bitching that I decided I was going to see what the heck we were talking about.
So I watched what I could find of their TLC show on YouTube. I found that they were extremely religious people. They homeschooled their kids. They don’t have TV. They dress modestly. The girls don’t wear trousers. They had chaperones when they were going out with someone of the opposite sex. They don’t use birth control. They hold a very conservative republican political agenda and are actively involved in politics (their political views disturb me). They believe that Jesus turned water into grape juice not wine (errrr???? what?!). They believe the earth is only 4000 years old. They don’t dance because they feel it could lead to people drawing attention to their bodies. They eat way too much processed food. And they let their older kids learn how to shoot at a shooting range ‘so they can learn how to defend themselves’ (eh?!).
And I’ll confess that because of this I made other assumptions about them. That they’d be super judgmental, hit their kids and that the husband or ‘Dad’ would be very controlling and not listen to his wife’s opinions. And maybe be racist.
But though I don’t agree with them on many things, I’ve actually learned some things from them, got ideas from them and love a few of the things they champion. For example, I love the way the ‘Mom’ disciplines or as she calls it ‘trains’ her kids not by yelling or hitting and finding things to praise them about. Both parents talk a lot about being an example and being humble enough to apologise if you ‘lose it’. Encouraging the kids to understand the value of money and staying out of debt. I’m not sure realistically I could go as far as they take it, but I certainly agree with the principles behind it. Her understanding that kids will be loud, need to blow off steam is great. It takes a great deal of patience. I’ve heard the Dad talk about how important it is for men to listen to their wives, to treat them well and love them. I love that the Mom advocates less medicalisation in childbirth – the balance of using it when needed but not using it if you don’t! And while you may think their daughters have been brought up to cook, clean and be provided for – actually they’ve encouraged them to learn skills like changing tyres of cars, DIY and so on. I wish I’d been taught stuff like that! Reading between the lines ‘Cousin Amy’ I think was born ‘out of wedlock’ – she is welcomed and not shunned (and trust me I’ve seen plenty of disrespect for relatives who’ve been ‘illegitimate’ or given birth ‘illegitimately’). She wears jeans and listens to rock music and watches trashy TV but they still love her, include her and allow her to be an influence on their kids lives. And the girls don’t dress in frills or weird outfits. They like doing their hair and nails and wear make up. They just aren’t flashing cleavage or wearing tiny skirts or jeans that end up showing your thong over the top.
And the thing is if I’d not bothered to watch and read, I would have missed out on learning some things from them. I could have missed out on the chance to try and understand their choices while I was busy judging them. I’ve been disgusted by the trash talk about them on the internet. And while if I was a parent my kids would be encouraged to dance over learning how to shoot a gun, learn about evolution theory and know that Jesus turned water into wine…I might try a homebirth, some of Michelle Duggar’s discipline techniques and have patience to let my kids learn musical skills or encourage them to dress modestly (not to the ‘girls don’t wear trousers’ and ‘boys don’t wear shorts’ extent). And certainly I already, and want to continue avoiding using credit cards and loans to pay for stuff.
We can learn a lot from people we find weird or people we don’t agree with.
If we bother to ask questions.
And be willing to listen to their actual answers.
Have you ever had the experience of agreeing with or learning something from someone you wouldn’t generally agree with? Do share…