A couple of weeks ago, my nephew, a happy and playful little baby, turned two.
As a satellite aunt, I did what many of us who are separated by continents from some of our loved ones, are wont to do: attempt to purchase the perfect gift from an online website.
While browsing through different websites, I was shocked that even in this day and age, little boys are told to play with cars and guns, and little girls are given dolls and kitchen sets for tea.
And it got me thinking: what on earth are we teaching our children, if we’re still teaching them how to be, how to become, a girl, or a boy, and that girls belong in the kitchen while boys should be out at war, under the myth of protecting the girls?
This is the resulting letter that I wrote to my nephew, and for all the little boys in the world.
My beloved little baby boy,
Never allow anyone to tell you who or what you are, or who or what you must be, based on the fact that you’re a boy, and boys are supposed to be macho, and exercise their masculinity by embracing certain activities, and through that, some very widespread ideas of what all little boys must be. You must never feel ashamed of loving something just because you’re told you cannot, because society tells you you cannot.
No one. Not me, not your mom or dad, no one has the right to dictate your affections, or tell you to stop asking why. Always ask why, and never accept the word “no” without questioning it. If you don’t exercise caution and questioning, you will fall into everyone else’s plans for you, and avoid your own.
Our duty is only to showcase to you that as a human being, you must know the difference between right and wrong, and when you begin to question, you automatically begin to redefine terrible norms, and terrible behavioural patterns. People who want you to absorb certain gender stereotypes are only trying to limit you.
Little one, violence, being rude, and shooting people with guns, these are easy answers to conflicting opinions, but they breed further anger, further resentment, and they are never solutions. Violence and guns are not toys, and they should never be reduced to toys, because they’re not something you should ever play with.
“You must become the change you want to see in the world,” a very wise Indian leader, Mahatma Gandhi, once said (Role models are a completely different letter, but we will get to that soon).
You see, baby boy, we are continually taught that by separating ourselves on the basis of religion, on the basis of class, caste, ethnicity, gender, or race, we exercise pride and compassion. But in order to improve the status quo, we must remember that compassion, dignity, respect and honor are one and the same concepts, wherever we go.
Little one, I know we are all taught from a young age the ramifications of these words, “dulce et decorum est, pro patria mori,” (it is a sweet and honorabe duty to die for your country), but this is a lie that war poets like T.S. Eliot point out is precisely a hindrance to sustainably progressing towards peace.
Little one, to have to die for an abstract idea, while perhaps a high honor, is second to a bigger and more dignified endeavour: to let someone live and teach them to live honorably.
Treating those we dislike with kindness, teaching them respect and engaging them with dialogue, with courtesy, and giving them the capacity to explain, is important. Don’t ever let anyone tell you otherwise, because everyone deserves to be heard.
Even when someone is hurt, all they might need is a little positive attention, a little love, and you are always capable of compassion and love, even if you might yourself be affronted by the level of shocking discrepancies you face between what you have learnt, and what you face as your reality in the world.
My beloved baby boy, you will realize soon enough that human rights is a relatively new model of thinking about very old problems, but even before human rights became systematized through idealistic ventures such as the United Nations and the International Criminal Court, humanity has always existed, and will continue to exist long after every one of us understand and internalize that idealizing is possible, that being positive and repeatedly supporting peace, is the only way forward despite any bleakness.
Baby boy, I want you to understand that in order to be successful, you must first help yourself, and then help others, because once you do what you love to do, you will automatically become a beacon of lght, allowing others to shine the way you are.
If tomorrow you want to become a chef, I would be proud to eat the meals you prepare, and similarly, if tomorrow you decide your life’s calling is to become a war reporter, I would worry for your safety, but I will support your decision to reveal the atrocities which members of our civilization fling towards each other, under the framework of expanding the understandings of nationalism, of race, ethnicity, and culture.
I will be proud of as long as you keep promises to treat people with respect, to treat yourself with respect while you continue to arbitrate with knowledge, by hearing both sides, or multiple sides of every story, and even when you disagree, as soon as you have learnt that you cannot humiliate others in order to receive instant gratification for your hurt, and realize that everything needs time.
Everyone is fragile, deep down, and you must remember this in your interactions, that a kind word goes a long way.
If one day, I find out that you gave a rose to the only girl in your class who all the “popular” kids are ignoring, I would be ecstatic, because you will have protected the weak, those who are often overlooked, and if you’ve done it out of compassion for humanity, and not out of pity, I will die a happy aunt.
If I find out that you have helped an old lady cross the street, that you nurtured an injured animal back to health, that you volunteered at an orphanage or in a soup kitchen, I will be proud of you.
I don’t care how much wealth you amass, little one, as long as you are true to yourself and to those around you, because monetary wealth is not akin to being humane, and you shouldn’t make money your ultimate goal, because if you do, your life will be hollow.
If one day, I find out that despite the pain, the horrors, and the awful hurt that the world will indubitably inflict upon your beautiful innocence, you remembered to treat others the way you want to be treated, with respect, with love, and care, and not with deliberate and hurtfully calculated anger, I will be ecstatic.
You must remember that not everyone has the knowledge and understanding you do.
This does not mean you let bad behaviour slide, but it does mean that you must keep your chin high and address others with politeness and courtesy, with an open heart, and continue to have hope despite the times your ego will be hurt, or you feel lost because not everyone has the hope and confidence you do, or people are closed to your embracing them with humanity.
Baby boy, you can be an astronaut, a gardener, a marine biologist, a billionaire. You can climb Mt. Everest or be the first man to scuba dive down the Mariana Trench.
There is no limit to what you can do, but you must be passionate about what you love, and not allow others to dictate to you, to blind you with their ideas.
You must never allow yourself to believe that other people have the right to limit the heights which you will reach. They don’t. They never have and they never will.
The most important thing you can learn is to love and trust others, to speak with them and hear their story, even if they hurt you, which they indubitably might, because we humans tend to hurt others when we feel cornered.
Little one, if you resort to violence, you stand to lose more than just your argument, you will lose your audience, and the respect of all those who you love. You automatically exercise bad judgment when you do this.Little one, my only fear for you is that you will be told, repeatedly, that you must like guns as a boy, but it is okay to say no.
The only thing you are responsible for is being open to new adventures and expanding your horizon by being open to new ways of thinking, to walking often, to relieving your soul through art, to running and playing and enjoying yourself while meeting new people, and enjoying your time with them in a constructive manner, where you laugh easily, and often, but never at the expense of someone being hurt.
Baby boy, there is no correct or right way to be either a boy or a girl. There is no particular activity you should be doing, but there is a right and correct way to be a human being, and I hope you will always remember to conduct yourself accordingly with this knowledge. I can’t wait to watch you grow up, you’ll be fantastic!
Sending you the biggest hug possible,
Your Loving Aunt