The Children

Thursday, October 7, 2010

The Children

There is hardly a week that flies past without another disturbing report on the nightly news about the increasing problem of school bullying.  Nasty incidents, that frequently seem to end in utter tragedy. It simply breaks the heart. And no one seems to know exactly what to do.
No doubt we had bullies when I was a child, but nothing ever escalated to the jagged heights upon which we are now teetering.  If anything unpleasant occurred back then, parents stepped in pretty vigorously and harmony was restored fairly quickly. We all knew what behaviour was acceptable and what was not.  Real cruelty was not something we confronted often.

Of course, our cultural influences were much different in those days.  Children did not grow up listening to the sort of vitriol that floods our airwaves now.  They never sang along to coarse and violent song lyrics that celebrate the sordid and the depraved.  They did not see so-called “reality” television shows that seek to debase and humiliate others for sport.  Radio personalities did not build entire careers on their infamous abilities to insult and incite.  News stations never screamed rumour as fact, never peddled fear and intolerance in their rabid desire to tickle the ears of the ignorant.  
Walter Cronkite never called someone an idiot.
There were exceptions of course, but in general, whatever our personal feelings, our public faces had a bit more dignity and, consequently, the national discourse was more interesting and beneficial to all.

I am not certain when it happened, what the catalyst was that caused the seismic shift to start our society off on the journey to the sad place in which we now sit.  Some say it was the assassination of President Kennedy.  A brutal jolt that forever killed our collective innocence, leading us, over the years, to gradually jettison the values we once revered as true and good.  Others say it was Watergate, and the distrust and disdain that was hatched in those years. I do know that the time honoured values of courtesy, respect, kindness, and grace seem to now be painfully absent at every turn, and never more so than in this, another election year.  

There is actually someone now running for governor of New York who claims to be basing his entire campaign on “anger”.  He has vowed to “take a baseball bat” with him to the State Capitol.  He refers to those with whom he disagrees as “leeches”, “pigs” and “wimps”.  And, worse.  
What a sad foundation from which to seek to govern.
From Alaska to Washington, in blue states and in red, when children grow up listening to adults behave in ways such as this, seeing this sort of behaviour applauded by other adults, what are they supposed to think?  How are they supposed to behave?  

Centuries ago, when ignorance and fear truly did rule the day, any sort of eccentricity or peccadillo could get a woman labeled a witch.  (I would have been in some serious trouble.) To resolve the thorny question of her guilt, authorities devised a fool-proof plan.  They would throw the unfortunate lady into the nearest lake.  If she sank to the bottom and drowned, she was innocent.  Hurrah!  If she managed to float, she was obviously a witch and was immediately dispatched to be hanged as such.  
Something about this reasoning reminds me of some of the behaviour I am witnessing today.  It truly doesn’t matter how justified we may think we are, if we cannot manage to grab a tighter hold on some basic commonalities of human kindness and restraint - if we cannot grasp the importance of doing unto others as we would be done by - then no matter who “wins”, everybody loses.

How we can expect children to behave better than their examples?
And make no mistake.
They are watching.
They are listening.
To us.


I am so honoured to have The Atlanta Journal Constitution publish this post on their October 7th editorial page!