When I was little I dreamed of becoming an attorney and running for office. I’ve always felt I had a duty to serve in some way or the other. Through volunteerism and through my work. My mom raised me to look around my community and do something to make a difference. There was no standing by, or watching from the sidelines in my household, we were active members of our community working to make it better.
As a kid I watched every election with wide eyes and was mesmerized by all of it. The rules, the pomp and circumstance, and of course election night. We’d stay up late, have popcorn, and watch as the polls came in. And in those years that my candidate didn’t win, I remember feeling sad, but still feeling awe and inspiration from the mere process of it all. THIS was democracy, I remember thinking, even as a kid. THIS is what makes our country so great. This fabulous process of checks and balances, the participation of all of the citizens of our land, THIS is what makes this MY country.
Back in the day, if people disagreed, they would respectfully agree to disagree. I remember being taught at an early age that you don’t talk about politics with just anyone. And to respect everyone’s opinions even if they are different from my own. Back in the day people respected the process, respected the President, and respected each other’s rights to have differing positions.
Not long ago something happened. The respectful debates (even when heated…they can still be respectful), the idea that everyone running for office really IS doing so to better our country in their own way, and the optimism…it vanished. I stopped going to the political party celebrations on election night. I stopped watching the news. Hell…I even stopped listening to MPR. Because everything I grew up loving about this country, everything I adore about our electoral process, all of the things I hold dear about our country started to feel…tainted.
I suddenly had friends I’d known for years…YEARS…start to talk down to me because of my political beliefs. I had family members behave as though I’m stupid because of my political leanings. And the ads…oh my goodness the ads started making me feel violent. Eight years ago I had a defining moment. I was working as a media buyer and we did a lot of work with political candidates and campaigns. I was placing an ad for a campaign. The rules for political ads are strict and serious so we had to watch each ad to be sure it adhered to the rules. After putting together an elaborate media plan, I popped the ad into the VCR (I know…right?), and it started with very scary and dramatic music. A booming voice then screamed “Candidate A HATES CHILDREN.” I was horrified. I had just spent days working on strategy, placement, and arguing rates for THIS piece of garbage?!! I felt dirty, and disgusting, and like I was part of the machine working hard to scare people into voting one way or another. Which, in my humble opinion, is a bullsh-t way to win an election.
That was it for me. I no longer had the taste for anything having to do with politics and elections.
Everything but voting. I still vote in every election and am teaching my girls to do the same. We bring them to the polls, explain how important it is, and make sure they understand that voting IS still something that makes our country great. But the rest of it? Well honestly the rest of it makes me feel sick to my stomach.
I said something the other day, off the cuff, but have been thinking about it ever since. I made the remark that if this is how our leaders behave, if this is how those hoping to become our leaders behave, if this is how reporters speak to people (even to the President), why are we surprised at all the bullies running around our schools? I mean…we watch it every day on TV. People screaming at the camera about the injustice of this or that (and to be clear…it’s rarely REAL injustice…it’s typically just politics), people talking about our leaders like they’re members of opposing gangs, how do we expect our children to interpret that? How do we expect them to walk away from any of that feeling like respect, and civility, and that valuing each other’s differences are important?
It makes me tired. And so so sad. To think that for the majority of my life I had so much joy and pride over how this country worked and now it all just feels icky. Is anybody actually enjoying any of this? And honestly, are any real groundbreaking conversations or debates being held?
So…since my circle of influence is small I’m starting with all of you. I can’t change how people behave on FOX News or CNN. I can’t change the despicable discourse being spewed all over the country during this campaign. But I can ask this of you. Can’t WE at least be civil? I respect your opinions regardless of your party, we live in the U.S., we GET to have differing opinions. But can’t we as mothers and fathers and wives and husbands and daughters and sons and friends…can’t WE be civil and kind? Pretty please???
TODAY: What if we, as plain old Americans, buck the system and treat each other with kindness and respect? What if when invited to participate in the disrespectful and unkind discourse we simply say, “I respect your opinion, and I have a different one, but that’s what makes this country GREAT!” And for the love of Pete, what if we all stop bullying each other (for the sake of our kids), and instead have respectful debate without the bullsh-t. Who’s in?