(I am constantly marveling at the power our words have, beyond just ourselves. This is an updated version to an essay I had posted elsewhere a while ago, but lately I have felt compelled to share it again.)
I have to laugh when I read a letter to the editor in the local newspaper or an opinion piece online about how we have to keep our kids from bullying by having them realize the impact of their actions. Yes, absolutely we do, but I can’t help but feel it will mean very little when our kids are constantly seeing:
1) Our politicians employing slandering, bad mouthing, half truths and out and out lies not only to get elected but to keep their names and faces in the public eye, painting their opponents as downright evil – and we tolerate that, and elect those fear mongering politicians into public office so they can make forwarding their political agenda their main focus.
2) Our most visible athletes are found to put bounties on other players in order to remove them from the game through injury, or obvious physical fouls are not only allowed but considered part of the game, even strategy; or they take drugs to make them stronger, faster, more powerful, and we tsk tsk and let it happen anyway, or slap their wrists and accept their cookie-cutter apology as long as they are in the starting lineup.
3) And speaking of sports, don’t you think our kids hear the negative reactions when our teams lose, especially if they are on a losing streak, from the media, the boos in the crowd, the name calling from the stands and the derogatory social media blather, even when the team members are students? Whatever happened to “it’s not whether you win or lose, it’s how you play the game”? Honestly, is winning really the only criteria for enjoyment in spectator sports? The spectacular individual play, the deftly turned team effort, the giving it your all and playing from the heart, the flair, the accuracy, the skill – these truly mean nothing if they don’t add up to a “W” in a win/loss column?
4) Our media pundits get more attention when they tear down than when they build up. Bah – what am I saying? They so rarely build up, it’s more about how outrageously they can tear down.
5) We condemn a tarted up “starlet” for being overtly vulgar at an awards show (as if the hopes of seeing just such a thing isn’t why most of us watch in the first place), when we don’t even mention the man on stage with her, who is old enough to be her father and repeats “I know you want it” while thrusting his pelvis at her, as they both mouth his song who’s video has a backdrop of naked women (yet no naked men); he called it feminism but we all know its voyeurism. We put him on magazine covers for doing so.
6) Yet our advertising continually tells kids that in order to be successful they are going to have to wear the right clothes, drive the right cars, eat the right food, have the right attitude, smell good, look good, be hip, be smart aleck, be individuals by buying the right stuff, and for goodness sake, make lots of money, because only then will you be successful and happy so do it now.
And those are just the first ones that came to my mind – I’m sure any one of you who have read this far can think of many other ways that we tell our kids one thing but they see so many instances of where “we” are not following through on what we say. Kids see so much, they take in so much of what goes on around them, they can’t factor out the excuses and justifications and rationalizations that we adults use to glibly so that we can turn a blind eye to all that crap in our lives.
But that’s our cop out. Our kids will stop bullying when WE don’t allow those manipulations to pass by in OUR lives, when WE learn to identify and call into question – and reject – the hypocrisies that surround us. They will learn far more by OUR example – when we don’t cheer the viscous check in a hockey game, when we turn off the television when a sitcom comes on where the main focus is how the guy can best dupe his wife, when we don’t post those cute but hateful Facebook “witticisms” and snicker at rudeness, when we talk to our sons as well as our daughters about safety and respect, when we don’t support agendas that are propped up by intolerance, when we don’t sugar coat failure but put it in perspective, when we enjoy the fun moments more than the final score, when we don’t ask more of others than we expect to give ourselves, THEN we will not just be talking to our kids about bullying, but demonstrating what we mean. And THAT will speak volumes.