We got my son a Swiss Army knife for his sixth birthday. He had been asking for one since he saw it in the window of a shop near his nursery school. That was three years ago. So, finally, with much fanfare, he received his dream gift—a bright red Junior 03 Victorinox pocketknife! He was more excited about this knife than he was about any of the other gifts he got, which included everything else he loves—books, a science kit, and, not one, but two video games.
My husband sat down with my son and showed him how the knife works. It has 15 tools, including a blade (without a point), scissors, tweezers, and a screwdriver. My son was thrilled with his new prized possession. I might be projecting this onto him, but I saw swagger and self-confidence.
We had a big party later in the day where we celebrated with grandparents, aunts, uncles, and friends. After the science experiments, the pizza, the cake, and the ice cream, the knife made an appearance. I was somewhere in the front of the house, but I heard a commotion out back. I arrived to see my mother grabbing the knife away from my son, who was in tears. Another set of parents were standing by, shielding their children with heavily worried looks on their faces.
My son was trying to explain that it was his knife, but no one believed him. All around him stood adults with various expressions of horror on their faces, ranging from fear to disdain. I stated calmly that it was, in fact, my son’s knife, and that we did, in fact, give it to him for his birthday. I whisked my son away to calm him down and asked him to put the knife away for the remainder of the party. He did.
Then the crazy discussions ensued: But Lisa, you are vegan. Aren’t you against violence? But Lisa, you are a yogi, aren’t you against violence? He could hurt himself. The other children could get hurt. Are you crazy giving a knife to a six-year-old?
There were so many issues in this episode. First, the adults didn’t believe my son. That is a problem, in and of itself. Second, the knife is not about violence, it is about building skills to protect against violence. And isn’t it true that anything forbidden is usually the thing that anyone—child or adult—goes for? For us, there is no violence in learning how to handle tools. What is this fear all about? Why are we so afraid?
I didn’t realize it when we bought the knife, but we were taking a stand against fear— irrational, unnecessary. Fear of the unknown, fear of getting hurt, fear of "if we don’t protect our children, something bad will happen."
It may seem paradoxical, but I am going the other way precisely because I am vegan and I am a yogi. I want my son to understand that the world is what he makes of it. That he has choices about how to comport himself. That he is in charge of his own life. That he must find strength within himself to figure things out by himself—even things that may be “dangerous.”
To me, that's what life is all about. I didn’t learn this from my parents or from my religious upbringing. I learned it when I starting studying yoga and when I discovered the vegan lifestyle. I have come to see that the world is what I make of it, and that I don’t have to comply with the way things are. I can be my own person and I want to teach the same to my son.
And isn’t that one of the most famous lines in history? When FDR said “…the only thing we have to fear is...fear itself—nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.”