Last week, the musician/philosopher Raffi visited us online at Moms Clean Air Force and left a generous, kind, enthusiastic vote of confidence about our work. We were thrilled. Raffi’s music was as much a part of my children’s lives as any book we shared. Raffi says our kids are “Beluga Grads.” But he should know that those grads come with Beluga Moms and Dads–many of us can still sing along. Raffi’s passion now is expressed in his organization called, Child Honoring. We’ve been having some fascinating conversations–inspiring me to put some fundamental thoughts into writing.
Our work at Moms Clean Air Force is driven by mother love–but what does that mean, exactly? First, that love isn’t just “owned” by moms. I’m meeting everyone from dads to daughters who feel exactly the same force. We often get comments that our name is exclusionary, and there is some vital truth in that. One of my partners in this effort has never had children, and she’s as passionate in this cause as any mom with a tiny newborn. Raffi has never had children; he has always felt connected to the world’s children. (I can vouch for that!)
So what is mother love? I’ve decided it is a value, rather than a description of source, or location..does that make sense? It is a value that embodies caring, compassion, and awareness. Anyone can have that value–anyone who stops to look around and see and hear and feel what it is about children that is so inspiring, and so deserving of honor.
And wait a minute! All of us were children. (Duh. But sometimes those Duh realizations are…explosive.) We can all remember being children, and even feel as though we are still children, in part; we still carry that spirit within us…if we give ourselves a chance to reconnect with it.
The strength of mother love has a great deal to do with politics, though it might be an odd pairing on the face of it. Once you connect with it–with the compassion that girds the way people see children, and the fierceness in the face of anything that will harm, devalue, undermine a child–once you connect with mother love, it alters the way you listen to political discourse.
An example from our lives here at Moms Clean Air Force: “regulations.” Many people hear that word as a business word. Regulation, to some, means red tape–red duct tape, the kind that is so strong that you can be paralyzed if you get tangled in it. Regulation means a loss of self-reliance. Regulation means limitation. The opposite of freedom, creativity, imagination. Rules. It has all sorts of stifling connotations. There’s a great deal of validity in these ways of hearing the word regulation.
And this use of the word regulation rules the air waves these days.
Some of us hear “regulation” and we feel relief. To us, regulation means protection. Regulations mean order, working order–the opposite of chaos. Regulations keep us safe. Regulations mean seat belts, not red tape. Regulations mean we can trust that the air we breathe is not toxic; the water we drink will not make us sick. Regulations mean that the plastic duck our baby chews on will not poison her. Yes, regulations mean limitations. But sometimes limitations are what we want–as every mom and dad knows, when we have to tell our kids Don’t Bite! Don’t Hit! Don’t Shove! In other words…better words: Be Gentle! Be Safe! So for us, thinking about air pollution, regulations mean Be Kind.
Regulations mean not only that someone (government–which, after all, is really only made up of we, the people) is taking care of us–regulations mean we are taking care of one another. We are trying to make the world we share a better place. Regulations, to our ears, are about nurturing, with a firm hand. They are about respect for all life. They are about taking responsibility for what we do.
It doesn’t do any good to think of the people who are anti-regulation as dumb, heartless, immoral. Most aren’t. It is just that “mother love” may not be the value that guides them in the way they approach something as simple as clean air.
Mother love is the value that guides us at Moms Clean Air Force. It isn’t a Republican or Democrat word. It is a spirit. It certainly guides me. It means that I put protecting the young ones, our next generation, front and center in the choices I make. It means that I am fierce in the face of anything and anyone who deliberately–or carelessly–visits harm on our children.
In the coming months, we will hear constantly about “job-killing regulations” –as if this were a Homeric trope, like “rosy-fingered dawn” or “grey-eyed Pallas Athena.” This is clever rhetoric. Even if it is not completely honest. Some regulations kill jobs. Some regulations create jobs. But that kind of distinction is beyond the reach of rhetoric. That’s conversation. And it involves thinking, discrimination, judgment–and facts.
We could train ourselves, those of us motivated by mother love, to always say “job-creating regulations.” I’m trying that. Words and phrases do matter; they have power. But really, we’re just butting heads here.
Come to think of it: I really like the name of the new Mercury and Air Toxics Standards that Administrator/Mom Lisa Jackson has given us. “Standards” implies qualities–excellence, achievement. Standards are something we live up to. We work towards standards. Standards can be embraced by large communities, and we can help one another meet them. I interviewed the president of Republicans for Environmental Protection last week, and he mentioned that EPA could infuse its identity with a “customer service” mentality; that was a terrific image.
The blanket statement “regulations are bad” simply throws the baby out with the bathwater. And the blanket statement “regulations are good” is dumb, too. The problem is that we’re losing sight of the subject. Our conversation shouldn’t be about regulations, though that’s the subject of many of our sentences. The real subject is children’s health.
Surely that is a bigger way to frame our desire for clean air–so that we can actually have a civilized conversation? Surely there are other ways to cross the bridge called “regulations” so that we can all breath easier, knowing our children are safer? I would love to hear your thoughts.