Sunday, December 4, 2016

The Writing on the Wall

A framed sign on my friend’s bathroom wall says, “Sprinkle kindness like confetti,” so her kids see that reminder with every trip to the toilet, every reach for a toothbrush, every step into a warm tub.  I imagine “Be kind” is written in cheerful crayon colors at the top of the list of guidelines in almost every classroom in the country.  At least, I hope it is.

“Be Respectful” and “Think before you act” are usually on those lists as well, crucial guidelines for living, although they often blend too easily in a sulky child’s mind into the “blah, blah, blah” of adult-speak following an incident of shoving, mean words, tears, and bruised feelings.

There are plenty of axioms for behavior that we teach our kids, all embraced under the wise umbrella of “Do unto others as you would have others do unto you,” but the Biblical “unto’s” and clich├ęd familiarity of the phrase blur its significance.  How could it not after thousands of years of repetition? Still, it is worth remembering as we choose our words and actions.

This brutal election has assailed us all, children and parents, via one screen or another, lashing us with cruelty, intolerance, and vile language that not so long ago would have cost a child a paddling, loss of privileges, or at least a sit in the thinking chair with a well-soaped mouth.  And yet in this election, the primary perpetrator has been awarded the presidency.  What will be the ramifications in what we do unto each other?  And will children feel less compelled to act kindly toward others when they see the otherness of those “others” sneered, spewed, and shouted by grown-ups? 

How would I feel if someone called me a fat pig?  How would I feel if someone mocked and imitated the way I walk or move?  How would I feel if someone minimized, even slammed, my loss of a loved one?  How would I feel if someone demeaned or attacked me because of my gender, color, sexual orientation, or beliefs?  How would any of us, all of us “others,” feel?

If I were a child in school and such an exchange occurred, presumably a grown up would intervene.  Perhaps, putting an arm around my shoulders and that of my tormenter, the grown up would remind us of the school code, and ask the bully, “How would you feel if she did that to you?”

I have several friends who feel the president-elect “makes some good points.”  That he “promises much needed change.”  That he “tapped into deep rooted anger.”  Let’s grant him those three.  But he could have voiced his stand on immigration, defense, trade, and jobs without demeaning, defaming, and intimidating so many of us “others”- women, Muslims, African Americans, Hispanics, and gays - fomenting a fury that emboldened one southern sheriff to say, “Folks, it’s torches and pitchforks time.” 

Pause to regain breath.  In despair, my mind leaps to witch hunts and progroms and Japanese internment camps.  To all of the “others” who have suffered before in the tumbling, divisive, hate-fueled wake of blame and scape-goating. When I learned about those terrible episodes in history as a child, I was comforted by thinking they were in the past, that we’d learned from them, that they wouldn’t happen again.

“Folks, it’s torches and pitchforks time”???

As we lurch into four years with a president who appears to have crumpled and tossed his copy of the school code into a trashcan, it is important that we, the people, remember our own otherness, remember our children are watching, and speak up for others, as we would hope they would speak up for us.