Lately, my kids have been competing for the award for Bickeriest Bickerton Ever. I find myself saying, constantly, things such as:
- If you start a sentence with No no no no no no, you are probably starting a battle.
- If you start a sentence with this sarcastic tooooonnnnnneeee, you are probably starting a battle.
- If you accuse someone of something awful -- you lied! you stole! you broke! you're so weird! -- you are probably starting a battle.
I am trying to convince my kids that starting a battle is a bad plan. It takes time, wastes energy, creates an unpleasant environment, leaves everyone feeling bad, and doesn't accomplish a thing. I don't want them growing up feeding off negativity like drama vampires, you see. In point of fact, I don't want them to grow up to be thoughtless or bullies or only able to relate via "telling it like it is" and through harshness and cruelty.
Lately, though, it's getting harder, and I think I realized my tolerance is at an all-time low, and it has little to do with my kids and their completely normal sibling differences of opinion.
I think I might be a little on edge about it, more than I need to be, because it's not my kids, it's the rest of you. Maybe not YOU, but definitely YOU, if you know what I mean. It's the world at large -- we've developed a cultural norm of completely antagonistic speech.
Once upon a time we have really strict cultural rules about how we conducted ourselves in company. When I was growing up, it was loosening up a little, but I was very clear on the fact that I was to say "yes, ma'am" and yes, sir" to adults, who I addressed by their title and last name. Then it got confusing, because this is how my parents raised me, but the world was changing and my "old school manners" didn't float very well in the "new school world."
"Oh don't call me ma'am or Mrs. Smith, that's my mother-in-law, you can call me Sue, sweetie," and then I was lost. It was rude to address adults informally but...it was rude to some individuals to be addressed formally, respectfully? How could you tell who was who?
So I erred on the side of manners. And got bit back a few times because of it. Plenty of folks thought all those manners were just me being fancy, and getting above myself. Plenty of folks thought manners were pointless.
So, somewhere along the way, my smooth edges got roughed up, and I think that goes for all of us. It's not about what name you call a person, it's about namecalling. It's not about showing respect, it's about showing disrespect.
My daughter is studying presidents in school. After my recent trip to DC, she's been very interested in government. It's become personal to her because I was there, and I met with legislators. I brought home kids books about the branches of government. And she's gone to vote with me. Despite my own opinions, I always endeavor to maintain respect for others, even politicians.
To do otherwise is hypocritical, you know?
I can't tell my kids name calling starts a battle and is a harmful way to communicate and then say So and So is AWFUL.
I can't tell my kids, you don't have to like everyone, but you do need to be respectful and courteous, and then turn around and say So and So is too stupid to live.
So why why why do my kids constantly come to me and say So and So said This Person is BAD and wants to hurt us?
I know you. I know you as a good person, a loving parent. I know you do well. And I know little pitchers have big ears and even bigger mouths. I know they can misinterpret things. So we, their parents, have to be super careful because we don't want to confuse them and send mixed messages about growing up to be thoughtful and courteous people.
My kids are learning. I'm learning. I know we are all learning people. I'm thinking, though, it might be time for a remedial lesson.
Yesterday, I shared all the details I knew because I saw it with my own eyes about my friend Erin being beyond bullied, threatened, her life, and those of her children, threatened, with death. Because it has become a cultural norm to talk that way. It's become okay to threaten, direly, with harsh and violent language, those with whom we disagree.
I've heard people I know talk that way, and it is shocking. It's like the fairy tale about the beautiful princess who opened her mouth and all that came out were snakes, and snails and gross things. I know you as a better person than that, why would you talk that way?
We all have strong opinions. I know I do. I endeavor, and I'm stepping up my efforts, to ensure that I separate the idea from the person, as in I discuss and debate the idea, not the person.
Today I had to help my little girl understand why her friend told her someone she's heard me support is a Bad Person. Why would me, her mom, be involved with a Bad Person? Is that person Bad? Am I in danger? Does he want to hurt us? Why?
I had to explain to her that many people might disagree with That Person, but this is a disagreement of ideas. That Person is not Bad, nor does he want to hurt us. He wants to do what he thinks is best.
And I had to reiterate how important it is to say, "I don't prefer that..." instead of "I hate...!!!"
And I had to reiterate how important it is to say "That's not how I feel..." or "I disagree..." or "I would rather..." and use our voices constructively to build something, instead of using insults and worse to tear it down.
Is that so much to ask?
I know you're good people. I know you aren't the ones doing this. But. Let's use our words, respectfully, and call for that.
Please join me in being mindful about how we talk, especially to our children.
I made a little movie about it--that's how much this means to me, because we need to make the mean stop, just stop, and we need to stop, and mindfully evaluate what we say and how we say it. I think all of us have gotten a little off the diplomatic and circumspect wagon -- we went a little far over-reacting to PC -- and now, too many leaders set a bad example and poor tone. So we need to reel it in, set the good tone and better example.