Children are paying attention. They want to know why the president, senators and congress people are behaving this way.
- Why are they mean?
- Why do they say nasty things about each other?
- Why are they so angry?
Whether you are a Democrat, Republican, Libertarian or Green Party member – whether you are an American voter or not – whether you live in the United States or not, it is very likely that you see American politics as embarrassing and crazy.
American politics has been divisive right out of the gate – and the current extreme partisanship seems to have perfected it. So … why?
Why do we insist children work out their conflicts with each other, be nice to each other, be reasonable, be clear and above all treat others as you would like to be treated – when our elected leaders don’t seem to do any of that? We no longer expect agreement in the political sphere – instead we expect scandal and blackmail. We expect change to happen because the press is able to uncover massive corruption, or lies, or infidelities, or whatever will make someone resign.
Children are paying attention.
You might be tempted to tell them “the truth” as you see it. You might want to say that a particular person is an egomaniac or manipulative or calculating or emotional and you might indeed be “right”. But consider this from the perspective of a child. Do they really need to know the shadows and psychology of all the players? Do they need to soak in all that drama?
I would say no.
Children are not little adults and they have not yet developed the systems and mechanisms to process complex emotions and nuanced language and intricate strategies. Children work with archetypes – the big images – kings and queens and tailors and scullery maids. They understand puppies, not press secretaries. So if you want to answer the question “Why Politics?” you might consider telling them a story about three sisters at the market instead of falling down the rabbit hole of explanation.
Tell a simple story, and I recommend you focus on hope.
Hope is something children understand. Hope is our “toe-hold” when trying to make sense of politics and politicians. When we dip politics in a broth of hope, we can offer a more nourishing picture of what is going on. We can have two conflicting characters in a story that want things to be a certain way and completely disagree. Then dip it in hope. One character loves his community and hopes that everyone is safe and warm and well fed. Another character loves her community and hopes that everyone is able to live a fulfilling life of their dreams. They disagree about how to make those things happen – but … they both have hope.
We wrote a story about elections last November called “The Fischer from the Top Branch”. In the story, there is a water hole in the Serengeti plains and the creatures who live there need a leader. So – a ‘Prefect’ is elected every wet season to monitor the water and make sure everyone is served. But choosing the ‘Prefect’ is often contentious.
This year the choice is between a Fischer’s Lovebird and a Leopard – and the election is emotional, ridden with conflict and indeed, personal. In the end the Lovebird is elected – but she immediately sees the need for healing – the need for the creatures to unite again. Luckily, she flies to the top branch of a nearby acacia tree and is able to see the land and all its creatures together. And that image helps her know what to do.
She sees that her opponent and all those who voted for him have hope for a better community – they just disagree about how to do it. This hope helps her authentically connect with the others, listen to them and then … be more empathetic in her leadership.
Give it a try.
Use the animal metaphor or use your own – but if you can land on an image that inspires hope in the political process, then you child will learn about how politics work, without all the drama.
The role of men is changing in the 21st century. Want to keep up? Get the best stories from The Good Men Project delivered straight to your inbox, here.
Photo Credit: Getty Images