I was raised with the idea that you are always polite, you mind your manners, you treat others as you’d want them to treat you, and there are some things you just don’t do—unless you want to feel the wrath of your mother, grandmother, and any other elder who taught you better.
I’m working hard to instill those same ideals in my son, trying to raise him to be kind, thoughtful of others and mindful of how his actions can affect those around him. There are things that you just don’t do, and if you do, there are consequences. If you’ve spent any time around a five-year-old, you know that can be a constant battle.
Lately, I find myself asking why I even bother. You see, no matter what I manage to teach my son, he has to live with the rest of the world. And that world, especially when it comes to manners and how we treat others, isn’t so pretty these days. I’m constantly shaking my head at what has become acceptable, or at least not so shocking anymore. Our civil society has become downright uncivil, crumbling around us as boorish, rude, crude, and mean behavior takes over.
Think I’m wrong? You don’t have to go very far to find stellar examples of what I’m talking about. Turn on a screen and watch our politicians battling their way to office. If you follow the presidential race at all, you know that one of the candidates openly called another of the candidates a “wussie.”
Well, OK, that’s not what he said, but we’re a family blog, have manners, and don’t use that sort of language. My guess is that you can figure out what word he really used. I happen to hate that word and can’t believe that anyone said it from a stage at a political rally. Then the media repeated it like giddy kids on a playground. When did it become allowable to say that in a public forum, let alone report it as news? (And some of you may point out that he simply repeated something someone in the audience said, but I don’t want to hear that—when you hear something not nice, you don’t repeat it. You give the speaker “the look” and move on.)
There’s a female candidate that is openly called a “b” on a regular basis. (Once again, family blog here, but I know you can figure it out.) I admit it’s a word I use. I’m not a prude—curse all you want, but don’t do it around my child and don’t name-call. It’s not acceptable on the playground or in politics. Grow up. Tell me that you don’t agree with a person’s positions; don’t just spit a name out there. For the record, I have no problem with a potty mouth, but there is a time and a place for everything. Even my grandma dropped a curse word or two (or more!) every now and then. But using said word to demean and belittle, openly delighting in its use? Not polite, not cool, and not what I want my son to hear and think is acceptable.
The lack of civility in our world today is not limited to politics. I just read about a brawl at a Chuck E. Cheese. I can’t imagine what is so important about bad pizza or expensive video games to make a brawl in front of children acceptable. Just get over yourselves.
Want further evidence? Let’s turn to the screens again. Have you spent any time on social media lately? It’s a no-holds-barred, knock-down, drag-out battle to see who can be the lowest of the low.
Somehow, seeing life through a screen gives people the idea that they can say anything and everything that comes to mind—no manners, kindness, common sense, or censorship necessary. Disagree with someone’s post? Rather than ignore it—because in a civil society, you don’t seek out arguments—you call them stupid, or anything else you deem appropriate to put them into their place.
When Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia recently passed away, I was shocked to see what popped up. His was one of the most conservative voices on the bench, so his death was celebrated and cheered by those who disagreed with him. “Satan welcomed him home” was one comment I read. Whether or not you agreed with his positions, how is it ever acceptable to celebrate someone’s untimely death? He wasn’t Hitler. He wasn’t bin Laden. But we’re happy that he’s dead and we shout that from our social media accounts? Have we sunk to such a low that we’re OK with that? Is that what I’m supposed to teach my son?
What happened to that tiny part of our collective brains that used to say, “Gee, that’s unkind. Maybe we shouldn’t say that out loud?” helping us keep things in check? Has it been lulled to sleep by the glow of the screens or simply drowned out by the idea that anonymity means you can say whatever you want?
If that’s what we’ve come to, then what else is OK? You see a picture of a woman/man/child you think is ugly/fat/wearing something they shouldn’t? Call them out on it, even if you don’t know them? Tell them they’re fat, worthless, stupid, ugly, or as one woman said about a sweet picture of three little girls who had chosen their own wild, mismatched outfits for the day, “idgits”? Seriously? What mother hasn’t cringed at what her kids decided to wear but let it go because, really, who cares? A child putting together an outfit that doesn’t match or make any sense for the weather/season/occasion/going out in public is a rite of passage, not a reason to call them idiots. I don’t want my son to think it’s ever OK to call someone an idiot, even as a joke.
A woman I know had taken in a stray dog who had a mind of his own. He was utterly devoted to her, following her to work in her small town every day and sitting outside of the building until she went home. The whole town knew him. She tried to keep him inside, tried to keep him locked up, but again, he had a mind of his own. Sadly, he was hit by a car, and she was devastated. Someone who didn’t know her, but heard the news, attacked her on social media. Who does that?!? “Treat others as you’d like to be treated” is obviously not a tenet she lives by, but it’s not one that I’m giving up.
I often wonder: Would these people be brave enough to say any of these stupid comments in person, directly to the people they’re attacking? I’d like to think no, but I’m not sure anymore. I’m not sure that we haven’t devolved so far that we still know right from wrong, or that the glow of the screens we hide behind hasn’t blinded us to how wrong this all is.
But each of us can say ENOUGH. No matter what others do, we can think before we comment. No matter what we think about what someone is wearing, or what they’ve said or shared, we can pause and question, “Would I make that comment to their face? Would I be OK if my friends—or my grandmother—knew what I was typing?” And we can refuse to cheer that sort of behavior. We can refuse to follow the crowd.
We can be kind. We can realize the power of our words. We can treat others as we want to be treated. We can respect each other enough to agree to disagree when our positions don’t match. We can understand that we’re not just profile pictures—we’re living, breathing, feeling people. And we can teach our children all of that.
When I remind my son to say “thank you,” “please,” and “excuse me,” I’m showing him the way. When we talk about how name-calling isn’t allowed—and how he’d feel if someone called him a name—I’m making sure that he remains empathetic. And when I lay down the law because there are some things we just don’t do, he learns that his actions do have consequences.
But no matter what I tell him, he’ll learn from what I do, not from what I say. So I have to be the example of what I want him to be. Less talk, more action. Doesn’t that sound great? Let’s show our kids civility. Moms make a difference every day. Together, we can make a difference, one polite, kind child at a time.