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President will be kids’ role model

  • A comic drawn by the author's son, captioned “It’s really the same thing at this point.” Courtesy of Samuel Barnard


Saturday, November 05, 2016

Easing into Sunday morning, I am sitting with the paper eating my breakfast.

“What do you think, dad?” my son asks softly, placing his picture (next page) before me. Instantly my heart sinks deep into the ground, my last bite lodged in my throat.

I think I am saddened, hopeless and fearful – but this has brought those fears distinctly home. I think I want to crawl into a hole somewhere and take my two young children with me. I think we need change, a shift in culture and climate. I think we have lost our way. I think the lowest common denominator has become the norm and we face an unfortunate, confounded “reality” as a nation and society. I think Costa Rica would be a nice place to live.

“Powerful, Sammy,” I reply, “so honest and perceptive . . . and frankly, sad.”

His eyes agree, an expressive young man wise beyond his years. This is the election through the eyes of a 12-year-old. This is the world and culture that we are allowing for our children.

In a seemingly endless election cycle filled with name-calling, violence, threats, lies and unparalleled nastiness, exposure to disgraceful rhetoric is essentially unavoidable. Even if we could elude the television and radio ads, headlines and political banter, we should not want or need to shield our children from the heart of our democratic process. How have we come to this pass?

The only bipartisanship exhibited by individuals on both sides of the political spectrum is a willingness to use negative, combative, abusive, derisive speech and behavior to belittle and intimidate one another. Even our sitting vice president is suggesting that conflict and disagreement should be settled, “behind the gym.” How can I teach my children about non-violence, tolerance, equality and respect when our leaders are modeling the opposite?

Education, immigration, economics, health care, foreign relations, military, abortion, justice system, environment, energy, death penalty, guns, the opioid crisis –clearly our country is polarized by a myriad of issues. The one universal truth that hopefully we can accept is that the United States president is the face of our nation and as such, our “role model in chief.”

Our governmental structure provides for checks and balances when it comes to policy and legislation on issues of national concern. However, only we as citizens have control over appointing the individual who will represent “our” values, modeling principled leadership and respect for each other.

In a week, much of this ugliness will fade into memory. But even years won’t wipe away the impact of the hate and divisiveness that we have seen modeled by our leaders and those who represent them. As a parent and an educator, I feel we need a FEMA subcommittee to address the disastrous year to which we have exposed young people. We must find ways to counteract the culture of fear and negativity.

As Michelle Obama suggests, we must “go high” and take our children with us, repairing the damage and hurt, embracing our neighbors and political adversaries in a show of mutual respect and acceptance.

After we return from the polls on Tuesday, it is incumbent on each of us to talk with our children about what leadership means and to articulate the characteristics that we hope they will seek in a role model.

I, for one, will be exploring examples of thoughtful moral leaders with my son and daughter. I will encourage them to identify individuals who they emulate and together we will unpack the hope and inspiration they distinguish in these leaders. I pray that more promising and optimistic sketches lie ahead for my son. Until then I feel blessed that he can express the discouragement he sees before us.