Like everyone in this country, I am outraged, disgusted and frightened by the behavior that we have witnessed in the past week. There is no sense in my going through it all again…we are all painfully aware of the heinous acts by the police officers in Minneapolis as well as the destruction of our country by mobs of America haters. I don’t sit in victim and sadness. Instead, I ask what can we do about it? What will each of us do about it?
Think about this…every person who is burning down our buildings, destroying personal property and attacking our very hard-working and dedicated law-enforcement officers (yes, we should all thank our lucky stars for their commitment to protect us even while there are “bad apples” among them who catalyzed this disaster) has a home and a family. They were innocent children raised by parents…they attended our schools…and they were raised with the freedoms and privileges that come with living in America. So where did we go wrong?
I share with you a blog I wrote a few years ago that looked at these questions and addresses the responsibility of each of us in guiding the next generation to be part of a diverse but unified society—not to destroy it.
Believe it or not, when my kids were younger, they were not always perfect angels. In fact, they ran me through a few wringers. So, what did I do? Like the good Bottom Line person I am, I called upon expert advice to figure out how to be a better parent—since clearly I must have been doing something wrong. Well, it turns out I actually was doing a whole lot right and really was a pretty good mom—but I was reminded of one super-important rule along the way. The better role models that my husband and I were, the better our kids would turn out. Pretty obvious, right? Well, I’m heading toward a point…
When children hit preadolescence and their teen years, they often turn away from their parents as they try to figure out who they are as individuals, separate from their parents and family, and all too often try on some of the pretty frightening behaviors that they see among their peers, celebrities, sports stars, etc. These little sponges watch very carefully and choose the behaviors they identify with and those they don’t. More important, they watch which behaviors are socially acceptable and which are not, constantly monitoring for the threshold of acceptability.
Here’s my point. Our children may never learn how to be mature adults when their role models demonstrate emotionally and physically destructive, disrespectful behavior. In other words, the adults are acting like children.
Their parents could be the most amazingly supportive and respectful parents ever. Yet when children are surrounded by images of comedians who choose vulgar, crude, deeply insulting jokes targeting the President of the United States and his family—a President who, by the way, slings his own name-calling and insults—and social media where people are so polarized that they can’t tolerate even listening to alternate viewpoints, parents have the nearly impossible task of convincing their children to be polite and respectful of others.
We already are witnessing the confusion among children when a sixth-grader gets beaten up on a school bus for wearing a “Make America Great Again” hat and violent protests break out on college campuses because students can’t tolerate guest speakers who present a viewpoint different from their own.
Our country was founded on the principles of free speech and diversity of thought and beliefs. But, somehow, far too many adults—many in highly visible and influential positions—have forgotten those basic tenets of our society. I don’t want to psychoanalyze them from my keyboard and presume to know why they think these behaviors are acceptable. Frankly the “why” doesn’t matter. What matters to me is that these behaviors are not acceptable in civilized society, but our young people are receiving the message that they are OK.
I always told my children that my job as a parent was not to be their friend but to raise good citizens of the world. That meant teaching them right from wrong…teaching them that they didn’t have to be best friends with everyone but that they had to be polite to all…teaching them to be kind to those in need and understanding that different homes had different rules, and different people chose to live their lives in different ways.
Yet scroll through any social-media site, and the messages being given to our children are not ones of respect and acceptance. They are violent and mean, and they are a very far cry from what every loving parent dreams for their children. Shockingly, it’s not just “fringe” people who are posting these mean-isms. They are my friends and peers—people who I really enjoy. Somehow the social environment’s timbre has given even the gentlest souls permission to be cruel and cutting.
I recently had a conversation with my management team about taking care never to speak negatively about a team member in front of others, even if it is someone who is not performing up to par. Why? Because in a past position, I witnessed the boss bad-mouthing an individual and that, in turn, emboldened the team to similarly disrespect that person. It was shocking how easily individuals jumped on the social leader’s bandwagon in the corporate society.
I am deeply frightened that the messages being given to our youth by society’s leadership are similarly dangerous. The negative and cruel comments so boldly displayed are being understood by young children and young adults to be the new normal of acceptable behavior. Yet I know that my friends and peers and followers of my blog would never want to harm our children and our future.
So here is my request. Don’t fall prey to it. Watch yourselves and your thoughts, and see if you, too, have become caught up in the wave of “we versus they.” Watch those around you, and stay away from their tide of divisiveness. I’m not suggesting that you shout them down. I am suggesting that we all return to our roots as role models and leaders.
Create the world you want for our children so that they can have a fertile environment in which to grow. There is no one else coming to create it but you.
Sarah Hiner, president and CEO of Bottom Line Inc., is passionate about giving people the tools and knowledge they need to be in control of their lives in areas such as living a healthier life, the challenges of the health-care system, commonsense financial advice and creating great relationships. She appears often on national radio and hosts the Bottom Line Advocator Podcast, where she interviews leading experts to help people be their own best advocates in all areas of life.