“Teaching civility is an obligation of the family.”–Stephen Carter
My son turned nine years old just after the 2016 election. He’s at an age where he is a bit more aware of the world around him, including public affairs and politics.
There are many things I thought I’d have to explain. Our strange electoral system with its many compromises and historical anomalies. Ideological differences between various factions, etc.
But, I hadn’t thought I’d need to have a discussion of basic civility.
We are our son’s primary role models, but it is inevitable that children will see the president, standing at a podium, addressing the nation, on occasion. The president is a role model for young people whether we like it or not.
I’ve often disagreed with our presidents, some more than others. But never have we had one for whom I am ashamed of how he speaks in public.
Whatever you think of his policies, and regardless of who you voted for, there is a conversation every parent needs to have about President Trump. Because, like it or not, he will be an example to your children.
The conversation goes something like this:
This is not how we speak. This is not how we act in public, or in private.
We do not bully those with whom we disagree.
We do not ridicule people with disabilities.
We do not call people names, poke fun at them, or make light of their physical characteristics.
We do not reduce people to those characteristics. People are not defined by their ethnicity, gender, religion, sexual orientation, or national origin. We don’t use those traits as weapons against them. We don’t generalize about people based on their demographics.
We treat women with respect. We don’t reduce them to their physical attributes or level of attractiveness. Their value to the world is not defined by their sexuality or how desirable you think they are.
It ought to go without saying, but I will say it anyway, we don’t grab or touch women without their permission. No one should grab or touch you without your permission either. Whether true or not, we don’t brag about our sex lives, or our genitals.
While we’re on the subject of bragging, just don’t. If you are lucky enough to be blessed with wealth or even talent, you don’t need to tell others about it. Just work hard and focus on what you can do to make the world a better place. If you need to tell people how wonderful you are, you probably aren’t.
When you are old enough to use social media, remember it is just a tool. It can be used to engage with others at a distance, and to learn from them. It is not to be used to bully others. There is no need to start a Twitter war with someone simply because they disagree with you. If they said something horrible, just leave it there. If they haven’t learned civility, it says more about them than it does about you.
We treat all people with dignity and respect. Everyone.
We do that even when we disagree with them. We do that even when they don’t reciprocate.
That last point is important. It’s not about other people or whether they are deserving. I could tell you all people are deserving of respect and dignity simply because they are human, but there is more to it than that. We practice these traits not because of them or how deserving they are, but because in the practice of them, we develop our own character.
The character I want you to develop is that of a person who acts honorably regardless of the circumstances or of others’ behavior. It is of one who walks through the world with humility, speaks the truth even if it is difficult to do so, engages others with empathy, listens more than he speaks, and is an honor to his family, community, nation, and world.
So, don’t listen to that guy up on that stage and certainly, don’t follow his example. He may be the president, but one of the hard lessons you will have to learn is that many adults do not act honorably.
That is no excuse for you. You are better than this.
—A version of this piece appeared in the Porterville Recorder on November 30, 2016.
Photo: Getty Images