Literature is filled with words from wise men admonishing adults, especially parents, to always remember that children will often do what they see, not what they are told. In other words our kids are always watching us to determine if we practice what we preach. They may not yet know the word for hypocrisy or be able to explain its meaning but they are quite bright at detecting when we are disingenuous. Our youngsters are way more observant than we sometimes think which makes me rather concerned about our presidential candidates. I wonder what our young ones, especially our teenagers are thinking about now when two such terribly flawed individuals are vying for the highest office in the land.
On the one hand there is a bombastic blow hard who doesn’t seem to mind being continually rude at the very least and possibly racist in the way that he stereotypes entire groups of people. On the other hand there is a woman who has been caught in so many lies that it is now difficult to believe the sincerity of anything that she utters. How can we keep a straight face when we correct our children for their little white lies or punish them for behaving like a bully? Of course we ourselves may not be guilty of such behaviors but the kids may think that if such lack of character doesn’t matter in gaining the highest office in the land then why shouldn’t they be able to engage in a bit of inappropriate behavior here and there.
We used to live in a country guided by manners and respect. When we caught our leaders stretching the truth we turned our backs on them and sometimes even ran them out of town. Someone who was hurtful to certain groups might have had a limited audience and following for a time but ultimately we would opt for someone more amenable to the diversity of our nation. Now we seem to be saying to our youth that we are okay with bombast and lies. We make excuses for our terribly flawed candidates noting that nobody is perfect and that it would be ludicrous to expect them to be so. We have nobody to blame but ourselves for the low quality of our choices because we had the power to select men or women of higher moral character and we instead chose to overlook the obvious flaws of the two who will finally be on the ballot in November. Our children are scratching their heads in wonderment.
We may have had disagreements with the political thinking of presidential candidates from the past but few would argue that they were not mostly decent men. When it became apparent that Richard Nixon had covered up the sins of Watergate he was urged to leave office not by the opposing party but by Republicans who argued that he needed to do so for the good of the country. They did not attempt to justify his lies and obstruction of justice. Today we have so many unscrupulous individuals who engage in intellectual gymnastics to explain away Trump’s absurd comments and Clinton’s parsing of words. In many ways both candidates are displaying adolescent behavior and we the people are allowing it.
Our country has weathered many things in the past. We endured a civil war. We engaged in questionable battles. We watched in horror as it became more and more apparent that one of our presidents was indeed a crook. We made the grand error of starting our democratic endeavor with slavery intact and allowed Jim Crow policies to stand for far too long. Sadly our children noted these things and they influenced their thinking. Today those very same mistakes cause some of our youth to question the very existence of our great democracy. Had we been more careful all along a great number of the problems that we now face would not even exist. We fall victim to what we allow to happen. Our children see what we do and how we react. It affects them far more deeply that we might ever imagine.
As individuals we have the power to talk with our young and let them in turn make their honest commentaries. We need not approve of either Trump or Clinton but rather note that we are in the unfortunate position of having to choose one or the other. We must decide who is more fit for the job and that is not an easy thing to do. Some among us will choose a third party candidate instead, post a write in vote for some worthy person or abstain altogether. Regardless of what each of us ultimately does I think that parents owe it to their children to discuss why we think we have reached such a dilemma. We need to turn off the noise from the pundits and talk about our country’s history with honesty and explain what we want from our leaders. Our youngsters will appreciate that we trust them enough to bare our political souls.
I doubt that any of our presidents have been perfect. We all learn soon enough that George Washington probably did tell lies and that he had slaves as well. We read that even honest Abe had a trick or two up his sleeves. We feel great disappointment when we hear of the racist comments that Woodrow Wilson made. We know that our beloved Franklin Roosevelt died in the arms of a mistress even after he had promised his wife that he would not see the other woman again. It hurts us to realize just how much clay makes up the feet of those that we entrust with our fates but still we prefer knowing that for the most part we can believe what they tell us and that they will not be constantly bullying and offensive.
I’ve tried my best to lead a life of which my children might be proud. I’ve wanted them to see how to treat people and to understand that lying may temporarily get us out of a fix but ultimately it destroys the foundations of relationships. I have stumbled here and there but always owned up to my mistakes, even in the classroom. I remember being rather militant with my students about getting their homework to me on time. I was generally unwilling to accept excuses especially when they claimed to have done it but accidentally left it at home. There came a day when I was supposed to meet an important deadline with my principal and in rushing out of my house I forgot the paperwork that he needed. Lucky for me he was far more understanding than I had ever been with my pupils. Feeling both fortunate and a bit guilty I revealed my error to each of my classes and announced that because I had messed up I was going to give each of them one chance to mess up without repercussions. The interesting thing is that few of my students took me up on the offer. Instead they began turning in their homework in record rates and often mentioned how much they had appreciated my honesty.
Our children are only moderately impressed by what we preach but dramatically taken by what we actually do. They are constantly watching us. We need to be certain that we do our best to model the behaviors that we wish them to have and that includes in choosing the people who will represent us. Hopefully we will do a better job in the future. For now I suppose that we just have to consider how we will hold whoever wins the race to higher standards than he/she has thus far demonstrated otherwise in four years we need to consider telling them to get out of town.