Disagreeing With Dignity
[Kitchen Table Politics November 2016]
My daughter dropped her head as she walked back to the house. She just realized that one of the neighbor kids wasn’t rooting for the same Presidential candidate that she was. She told me the story. One of the kids repeated a line they heard from their parents and then my kid repeated a few things she has heard in our house. And of course in our neighborhood, where the signs in our yard stand in protest of the large parade of the other candidate’s signs, we knew she might run into this situation. Kids say the darndest things, don’t they? Or when it comes to politics perhaps we could say, “kids repeat the darnedest things.”
When my oldest told me about what had happened with her friend, I had to reassure her. “First, honey, it’s okay - your friend can’t vote.” Now, that may have been more for the benefit of my wife who was listening in. It was funny. But then I started to reinforce what we believe about this time of year, and what we believe about politics and even more fundamentally, what we believe about disagreement. “It’s ok when we disagree with our friends. It just means we have a chance to learn or to grow. Or we have a chance to try to get better at listening than we are at talking,” I said.
By now, she wasn’t that interested, but I was reminded of something central to parenting: kids are going to repeat what they hear. This situation was partly about how to handle the infrequent bi-partisan playground discord and it was also about our kids repeating what they hear. Our children soak up all of these words and sighs and eye rolls and commercials and tense moments talking with Grandma about how she can’t believe its gotten this far. They see it, they hear it, they breathe it in. And then they repeat it to their friends while swinging. But, you know what else they hear? They hear the questions we ask in the tone we ask them. They know what it means when we respect each other and they are capable of repeating that tone and showing that respect back to their friends. So, how can we best prepare our children for these interactions? And how can we best prepare our children for all of the interactions they will have after the immediacy and heat of the election passes?
While it is important for adults to prepare for November 8th and to consider who they will vote for, I believe it is important for us to prepare our children for November 9th. The day after the election. When the results are in, a winner is declared and yard signs and bumper stickers transform from signs of hope to souvenirs. That is the day that we really want our kids to be prepared for, right? After all, they always need to be ready to treat all people with the dignity and respect they deserve.
The way we do that, is by behaving in such a way that the reality of November 9th is front and center in our family life. That is the day we are all reminded that we are all in this together. Despite the past year of separation and line-drawing, once the votes are tallied, we remember that we are all on the same team again. Isn’t that what we want for our children? Isn’t that what we want for ourselves? This grand experiment called democracy is predicated upon this hope and dream. We the people, we are all in this together.
So, as I look back at that conversation with my daughter I think I’ve learned a lot. And the next time around I trust that she will be more prepared and less disappointed to learn of her buddy’s parent’s differing viewpoint. And I trust that the next time around I will be more prepared. When can teach our kids we are all in this together, we all win, no matter who wins.