Monday, October 31, 2011

Halloween freedom of choice

This is one in a series of guest posts by other bloggers. Read to the end for a longer biographical note on today's guest blogger, Zoie from TouchstoneZ. Zoie tells about parents who made the choice to work through a challenging dilemma consensually as a family.

Guest post by Zoie from TouchstoneZ

Last year the son of friends of mine asked if they would help him create his Halloween costume. Intrigued by the idea that their son wanted to make, instead of buy, a costume, they readily agreed. But, what he wanted to be gave them pause.

He wanted to dress up as a Nazi.

This family normally practices consensual living and allows all members of their family to make their own decisions. This decision was a tough one for them.

So the parents discussed it together first. They decided that they were uncomfortable with their son1 dressing in a Nazi costume because of the potential hatred that would be directed at him, because of the hurt it might cause those affected by the Holocaust, and because of how their family would be viewed.

They thought about the visceral hate directed at Prince Harry of England when a photo was released of him dressed as a Nazi as he attended a private party specifically designed to be inappropriate and tasteless. They wanted to protect their son from threats or harm that wearing the costume might bring.

They thought it would be disrespectful to the memory of the Holocaust victims. This was a line that should not be crossed. There simply was not an appropriate answer for this issue.

They knew their son would be interacting with strangers and neighbors while trick-or-treating as well as with family and friends at a Halloween party. They worried there could be lingering doubts about their son’s character and about their radical parenting style that could outlast Halloween night.

Their next step was to find a way to address all of these concerns and come up with some solutions they could work on together with their son.

I admire these parents because they gave a lot of thought to understanding their own feelings on the decision. They were willing to put aside their strong emotional reactions in order to work through the issues rationally. They rarely deny requests from their children, as they firmly believe that everyone’s needs in the family are important. The parents do not simply hand down decisions. They mediate and compromise to find a result that best meets everyone’s needs.

They sat down with their son and shared their serious concerns. They had also worked out some ideas for compromises about when and where to wear the costume that would meet their needs to protect and support him. They were resigned to supporting whatever decision he made and would work with him, even though it was hard for them. Most of all, they wanted to hear him out.

My kneejerk reaction to this was the same as the parents’, except I would need to do some serious soul searching to let go enough and trust in my son. That is, until I heard the reason their son wanted to dress in a Nazi costume.

He said that he wanted to be the scariest thing he could think of. If people saw him, they would have to confront their own fear and hate. They would not forget.

The awareness that their son had of the impact that just seeing a Nazi uniform would have on others convinced me that these parents approached this decision in the best way for both their son and their family. He knew full well the power of this symbol of evil. It was more frightening than any ghoul or goblin because it represents what we fear most of all — ourselves. The Nazi uniform pushes on the most tolerant of people in a way that forces them to confront human evil. And whether a person is aware of it or not, we all recognize that potential in us all. And it is something that should never be forgotten, or it will happen again.

I look at my sons who are younger and see the potential in them for conscious, compassionate consideration for others — if it is what they are given consistently. I already see the way they care about the feelings of others and value cooperation over individual ego most of the time.

I also know history and recognize that Nazis were also other mothers' sons who were loved (or not) and nurtured (or not). It is terrifying to me to be confronted with the truth that we are all human and cannot be written off as simply evil or simply good. It is the most frightening thing I could think of.

It is a huge leap for me to see issues as prickly as the Nazi costume question coming, but I do know they are coming one day. I hope that by then, we will have a strong enough connection for us all to take that leap to trust in one another.

This family’s son is a bit older than mine, but I find comfort in the idea that since his parents have consistently modeled this way of non-reactivity and consensual decision-making, their son would come up with this idea. It’s a choice to allow feelings to exist without judgment and not react to them. On some level, he was attempting to wake other people up to the idea that you can hold onto emotions without being ruled by them.

Their son ultimately decided not to dress as a Nazi for Halloween because he felt the strength of his message was inappropriate for his Halloween activities. Instead, he chose to dress as a homeless person wearing a “Will work for candy” sandwich board — a more subtle message about confronting fears that perhaps fewer people understood.

How would you react if your child wanted to dress in a highly inappropriate costume for Halloween? I’d love to hear from you.

Further Reading on Consensual Living:

bio pic photo for guest post — TouchstoneZZoie is the Yogini mama to three boys on earth and one girl who soars. She has been known to bust out ardha chandrasana pose while unloading the dishwasher and she enjoys seeing how far her partner can roll his eyes at her hippy ideals. She blogs about yoga, mindful parenting, postpartum depression, and other meaningful topics at TouchstoneZ.

Photo Credit: Masques de la marchande de peur / Sunfox, on Flickr"

1 I’m purposefully leaving off this boy’s exact age in hopes that forming an opinion is made independent of his age.


teresa said...

The answer I would have given to your question at the beginning of the post and the answer i would give at the end were different... At first I contracted completely. I couldn't handle it... Ultimately I would talk to my child and love the way these parents did. I love that the boy was so wise and passionate and compassionate. After all that, if my child still wanted to wear it... I don't know. It would depend entirely on his age. Maybe by 13, 14, 15... I'd be more comfortable letting him take on that challenge and the possible repurcussions. Before that... I don't know.

Terri said...

Woah that's interesting. I am inspired at the way this family handled the situation and at the young boy who is obviously a deep and creative thinker. More inspiration for the power of consensual preanting.

Unknown said...

Wow - what a tough thing to have come up! I'd have been so proud of my son for his costume choice. Yet, those who would have seen him in the costume probably would have had NO IDEA of his reasons. It's literally a dangerous situation!

I have no idea what I'd do in the situation. I know my first reaction would be an automatic, "NO" But I also know I'd think it over. Beyond that - I have no idea...

Zoie @ TouchstoneZ said...


Teresa, Thank you for commenting. It's interesting that your opinion changed as you read it. I was hoping to convey my own change of opinion as I thought about it. It's funny how trust isn't second nature to me all the time. It's a practice...

And, yes, the age. That's why I left it out because it's one of the things we can point to for our own comfort level in making the decision. Without his age, we have to float in the gray area and remain questioning-possibly open to consensual approach when we need it :)

Zoie @ TouchstoneZ said...

Thank you, Terri. The approach of this family and the spirit of this boy had me question deeply my own feelings and moved me to write.

If I can help raise some inspired thinkers like this, I'm going to be a proud mama! (aw, the truth is I'm a proud mama no matter who they are)

Zoie @ TouchstoneZ said...

@Alicia C.
Thank you for your comment, Alicia. It is a potentially dangerous situation. Most people don't want to be confronted with that and Halloween is not necessarily the right space for that.

We were trick or treating tonight with little kids between 6p-7p and there were some truly gruesome costumes out. The little kids were freaked out by them, but the adults and older kids seemed desensitized. I question their appropriateness and find it interesting that those are accepted, but the images on a Nazi uniform would not be.

Again, I think it goes back to what makes someone confront something within themself. I'm affected by both the Nazi and the horror film-inspired costumes, but I hope that I would listen and discuss depending on the situation and the child...

Laura--Kicking Pedagogical Ass said...

I actually still think it's inappropriate. Nazis were real, and are still within living memory. No matter how gruesome a costume might be, no passersby know anyone who was killed by a vampire, zombie, ghost, Freddy Krueger, or what have you. It's also not as though the child's intended message would actually get across to most people; it would just be a dark spot on their fun. Worn to a party attended by like-minded people who would be likely to intuit the meaning or at least inquire would be different than wearing it in public generally. I feel the same way about the homeless person costume, in fact--while the intention is honorable, the effect is not. I think it's *superb* that this child is thinking along these lines and that that kind of processing is to be encouraged, but I consider this an inappropriate medium. It he were my child, I would suggest a letter to the editor or something similarly well-placed to elicit the kind of thought-provocation he intended, rather than recoil.

I also don't think that a lack of a fear reaction on the part of adults seeing horror movie costumes is necessarily a function of desensitization. It's perfectly sensible to have a neutral reaction toward a costume based on fantasy. If the only thing we have to fear is fear itself, fear of Nazis is well-founded: the Nazi movement was fear personified. Horror movies rarely have any connection to reality, but Nazis, the Clan, and witch-burners etc. are real implementations of true horror.

I do, however, completely agree that costumes intended to be scary should not be worn at times or in areas where children can reasonably be expected.

Laura--Kicking Pedagogical Ass said...

I forgot to mention that one of the central issues to me is that the feelings such a costume would conjure in passersby would be non-consensual in and of themselves. I do place a high value on consensual parenting, but I also consider it my job to teach the doctrine of consent to my children, and the kinds of costumes the child came up, while, again, well-intended, would not honor that doctrine.

Zoie @ TouchstoneZ said...

@Laura--Kicking Pedagogical Ass

Okay. You make an intelligent comment full of juicy stuff, please be prepared for a long reply. I truly appreciate what you have said here. Along with the other commenters, I'm loving this dialogue.

Both of your comments have me thinking deeply. I think my comment above about the horror (but not fantasy) costumes blurs the issues I raised in the post. So, I'll leave that be as your words stand well on their own.

I agree that finding out what is consensual for everyone is one of the central issues that these parents wrangled. Causing pain to someone else who might see the Nazi uniform was one of main the things they discussed, including where it might be accepted because there was a level of trust and where it might not.

I didn't go into every nuance of their discussions in the post, but you and the other commenters have spoken to most of them well.

Bear with me for this point, if you will please (I'll keep this as succinct as I can and leave things out, unless requested for more):

I think back to being in Yoga teacher training and discussing appropriate touch and safe space.

I had one teacher who advocated gentle touching for adjustments. They spoke about trust between a teacher and student. By going into the class and hearing the teacher say they walk around giving adjustments.

Another teacher advocated asking permission and once given, explaining where the touch was going to be and what they were doing each time.

Another teacher advocated hands-off adjustments through verbal cues only.

All three spoke about not knowing how the student would react to touch. We can't know trauma history or injuries, etc. My take on this was to find where my authentic teaching self was and then connect with each individual as best I could to make adjustments consensual. When in doubt, not touching at all.

Touching breaks into a person's space literally. And this is why your comment had me thinking about this. Seeing a Nazi costume could also break into a person's space in an uncomfortable or hurtful way.

This is how I relate to the costumes. You can't know exactly how someone else will be impacted and it is impossible to ensure completely consensual interactions-nor should you as this can lead to inability to act at all.

Finding the authentic self and moving from a place that will create, and not harm, consensual connection is the best these parents and their son could shoot for.

Okay, I'm writing this in the teeny tiny blogger comment window, so I hope my reply is coherent. I'm very happy to hear more from you or other commenters, if you feel inclined.

Momma Jorje said...

I think what makes Nazis so much scarier than ghosts or ghouls, etc. is that Nazis were REAL. There may be debate from one person to the next about ghosts, but Nazis are a part of this world's history. He was right, it should not be forgotten.

But I also agree that holiday frivolity is not the time to be making such a serious statement about humanity. It would likely not have been well received.

I think the homeless costume could have been just as offensive, but I love that it was a subtle commentary on humanity.

And hubby and I *love* inappropriate humor! So perhaps we'd be alright with something considered so terribly inappropriate. We did stumble upon a photo of a child dressed as Hitler just the other day.

Zoie @ TouchstoneZ said...

@Momma Jorje

I'm not certain there is a place where this type of statement about humanity would be well received. Movies, plays, something theatrical, or for historical depiction are the only places I can think of, at least for most people.

I know we've been discussing offensive, inappropriate, and other words that describe the degrees of allowable for this issue.

Horror and fantasy costumes have been brought up, but I'm a little surprised the "slut" costumes haven't been brought up yet. I find that amusing since, at least in America, it's sex before violence that is deemed inappropriate.

Perhaps Nazis trump everything.

I would like to bring it back to the central idea, if I may, that the family discussed it. They looked beyond their emotional reactions and really probed it.

I'm enjoying these comments so much because each of the commenters are doing the same (as am I for each of your comment posts.) I'm grateful all over again that Hobo Mama was willing to post this here where many more thoughtful people would read, think and respond.

Thank you to anyone who has stopped by, whether you commented or not.

MarfMom said...

I think it's admirable that the parents were willing and able to step back and discuss the issue. Like Laura KPA, I think I ultimately would not have allowed my child to wear the costume (not an appropriate place for that level of social commentary, might hurt others, might cause hurt to my child by others). However, I think the discussion is really important and I hope I'll be able to do that when hard topics come up in my parenting. I've actually never heard of consensual parenting so I need to go look it up!

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