I'm one of those people. The quickest way to get me to do something is to tell me not to do it.
Last week was Banned Books Week and I checked out a book from my local library that was wrapped in paper. The reason the book had been banned was written on the wrapping: “For challenging religious beliefs." My first thought when such issues arise is always the same. If your beliefs couldn’t withstand being challenged then they were awfully fragile things to begin with, weren’t they?
The book turned out to be A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle. I was pleased. I’ve never read this book, but have heard wonderful things about it. The various lists of banned books floating around the internet include a lot of award-winning, thought-provoking, life-saving literature.
So I thought back to the first time I encountered censorship. My middle school had just gotten a new librarian. Now, I have no idea who gave the orders to commit this travesty. All I know is that I was enjoying a book, turned the page, and found black permanent marker blocking out words and even entire lines of text. I was livid. I mentioned it to some friends and they showed me other books with similar “editing.”
I didn’t do or say anything. I should have. Instead, I went to the public library to check out books from then on.
I was raised by my great-grandparents and bless my Bubba’s heart, but her version of the “sex talk” was to buy two romance novels for me to read. Because it was inevitable, my Grandad began to peruse one of them while waiting in the car outside the mall one day. He didn’t approve. Long. Ride. Home.
Later in life I purchased a “clean” version of a CD. Does anyone not know the words that fit in those empty spaces? Still later, I was desperate to see the movie Shakespeare in Love in the theater. But, it was rated R and I would not have been granted parental permission. I can tell you right now that I was smart enough to imagine what I wasn’t supposed to see. And worse.
I’ve seen artists in many mediums come under fire for “promoting” something in their work; abusive relationships, violence, drug use. Expressing something does not equal promoting it.
And what is our reaction when something controversial shows up? Open, productive discussion about the issues? No; hide it, ban it, repress it. That’s easier.
I think about this a lot these days as I watch my two young children beginning to enjoy books and movies. What to allow? What to restrict? What to shield them from? The answers I’ve found in my heart are as follows.
My children will be allowed to read and watch most of what they want, because the quickest way to put a sheen of desirability on something is to put it on a high shelf and say, “That’s too –fill in the blank –for you.” It’s just another book, just another opinion – until you increase its appeal by hiding it behind a curtain.
However, I may restrict their solitary access to something. I may want to read/watch it with them or discuss certain content. Isn’t that my job as a parent - to help them figure out this world and their place in it?
And the final question should be: What can I shield them from? Can I shield them from pain? Loss? Defeat? Cruelty? Can I keep them from hearing someone swear in line at the grocery store? Can I stand between them and a bullet? Maybe sometimes. Maybe. But maybe that’s not my job, no matter how I wish it were. Maybe my job is just to help them build their own shields. After all, it’s not my place to decide for them what to repel and what to let through.