August 4, 2013

Motherlode: Talking about living with consequences

By KJ DELL-ANTONIA

Any parents who expected a clear lesson about race to emerge from the trial of George Zimmerman for the death of Trayvon Martin were surely disappointed by the complexities of the actual testimony, and the result.

Discussion of what looked, to many observers, like decisions by Zimmerman made because of racial bias (his initial interpretation of Martin as "real suspicious;" his choice to disregard the suggestion by the 911 operator not to follow Martin) was complicated by the fact that those decisions were not on trial.

What was on trial was a narrow question concerning a series of events with few witnesses, and while the result (to this former prosecutor) isn't surprising, it certainly doesn't provide a satisfying resolution to any conversation about the case that a parent might have with children or teenagers.

In a matter with so much black and white, it was probably inevitable that the case would go into history shaded gray.

I had a long drive with my 12-year-old son after the trial ended, and long drives are where we tend to have our conversations about serious things and current events (thanks in part to my NPR addiction).

We had talked, in the past, about Martin, and about the assumptions people make about young black men, and the way my son (a white kid in a largely white New England town) had already seen those assumptions play out on a much smaller scale at a number of sports events when there was only one black child on the team, though he might not have realized it at the time. But this time I found myself drawn to another side of the topic -- the decisions that led to Martin's death, and the decisions that led Edward Snowden to his bizarre life in the limbo of the Moscow airport transit area.

We talked about the things people do that seem right at the time but that end up being life-altering in expected and unexpected ways. Whatever the result of your choices, you have to live with it and, ideally, take full responsibility -- but with the added twist of how hard it can be to figure out what "taking responsibility" means.

Of course, I didn't set out with an overt lesson plan. I was just fascinated by the questions that Snowden presents, and the trap he's made for himself, as well as those of Zimmerman's future.

We spent a lot of time discussing the things people do that they can't take back; sometimes little choices, sometimes big ones, sometimes in the heat of the moment and sometimes after long thought.

No brilliant conclusions were reached. We just talked, and in this arena, while I might know a little more (like the definitions of treason and reasonable doubt), his opinions on the morality plays coming at us in snippets over the radio were just as valid as mine.

Contact KJ Dell-Antonia at:

kj.dellantonia@nytimes.com

 

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