“You support who? SHUN HIM! SHUN HIM!”
“Did you know that Mitt Romney tackled Barack Obama?”
These exact words that were said to our children last week at school. From the oldest of our four kids (12) to the youngest (4), politics is part of their day. Unfortunately, it’s not just background noise. It’s front and center–and it’s extreme.
When we were little, we certainly remember big elections and political figures, but it just wasn’t something that we talked about with our friends or heard about at school. We vaguely remember the Kids Voting we’d do at school, but it was a fun and happy thing. A silly thing even. It certainly wasn’t something we’d go back and discuss. It *especially* wasn’t something that would make us spew hate filled words at our friends. Boy, times have changed.
Whether or not you know it, your kids are exposed to some pretty rough political rhetoric when you’re not around. It’s difficult enough to help them sort it all out when you are right there to explain that “the other guy” isn’t mean or bad, he just has different opinions on how to help the country. But even the smallest of children are having to deal with this by themselves in this political climate. Ugh…what went wrong?
Our job as parents is to guide our children and teach them values. We obviously want them to think and stand up for themselves, but we also encourage them to do so in a way that is respectful to others and certainly isn’t damaging to anyone. Most of us would say kindness is a virtue we hope to instill in our children. Most of us make this point on a daily basis from the time they’re little. There is a reason you don’t grab someone’s shovel in the sandbox or hit them if they irritate you. As they get older we also let them know there is a reason you sit with the person who is all alone at a table at lunch. Kindness matters.
It’s really hard for children to get this message when adults aren’t practicing it. We can’t think of anyone we know who would approach a stranger to tell them how stupid they were for being a different religion or choosing different groceries at the store, but somehow politics is now fair game. A few months ago, a man we didn’t know, approached the car we were in (which also contained our children) just to let us know that the political bumper sticker on the car made us idiots. This was a stranger…coming up to two women…with a car load of children…for the sole purpose of being insulting. In addition to being incredibly rude, it was actually scary. When did this kind of behavior become acceptable? More importantly, can it change?
We really wish that the conclusion of the 2012 Presidential Election would signal the end of this phenomenon. The problem is, this isn’t a phenomenon that started or will end with this one election. It’s where we seem to be right now as a country. It’s the zeitgeist.
We want better for our children. Not just because working together gets things done, but because stopping this cycle of “I can insult you faster than you can insult me” results in everyone reduced to their worst selves.
Isn’t it sad that it’s even necessary to type those words? OF COURSE people can be good, and smart, and patriotic, and yet have totally different viewpoints.
Thankfully, we’ve seen this in action this last week. Even right before an election, two people who couldn’t be farther apart on the political spectrum have come together, praised each other’s work and dedication, and helped the victims of a ravaged eastern seaboard. Even though they disagree on most issues. Even though they are in different political parties. Even if they are voting for different people in the presidential election.
Barack Obama and Chris Christie working together amicably for the common good should not be surprising news. It should be the rule, not the exception. It shouldn’t take a tragic, natural disaster to remind us that “the other guy” is a hardworking patriot who wants what is best for our country, too.
Political differences do not make us enemies. If we want our children to embrace this concept, we’ve got some work to do. We’ve got to start sending this message now. After all, isn’t that the message we actually want them to receive?