My usual upbeat attitude has been faltering of late. Increasingly, I worry for the future of our nation and the world. My gravest concerns, however, are reserved for youngsters trying to navigate themselves to futures clouded by the mess adults all over the globe have created.
Thankfully, my parents never cautioned us kids to: “Do as I say, not as I do.” But as I consider the current state of affairs, it seems that is exactly the message many adults are delivering.
The children are watching. They see that physical appearance is becoming the overwhelming currency of social acceptance. I read about classmate taunts causing a young boy with protruding ears such distress that he underwent corrective surgery.
I suppose teasing has always been a part of childhood. Regrettably, however, there are enough adults, who themselves whisper and point at individuals with mere “differences,” for children to learn that judging fellow humans based on outward characteristics is acceptable.
Name-calling often develops into bullying, and disparaging social media posts can devastate a young person’s spirit. Sadly, child bullies have right in their own communities ample adult “role models.” Recently, a child healing from injuries sustained in an accident had to be hustled in tears from a local business amid insensitive gapes and comments by customers old enough to know better.
Even some politicians engage in these tactics usually assigned to childhood. Disgraceful performances at the glorified press conferences we called “debates” are continuing now at campaign rallies, in attack ads, and across all social media platforms. Scarcely a day passes without some elected official stepping to the nearest microphone to trivialize an opponent. And we blame children for bullying?
We adults also label others according to political party membership, religious affiliation, sexual orientation, financial status, ethnicity, skin pigment. Too often, then, we dismiss out of hand those people whose labels we do not like or understand. We urge laws against them and may even support their ouster from our society.
The children are watching. They see adults, including some politicians, reject entire groups of people. They see adults, including some officeholders, denigrate those whose beliefs do not match theirs. They see adults, including some elected officials, consider certain segments of the population – fellow humans constructed with hearts and brains and blood and tissue – of lesser value, somehow undeserving of “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”
In response to the tragic shootings in Louisiana and Minnesota two weeks ago, a continuation of what seems to have become a sad summer tradition, people and groups marched and rallied, observed moments of silence, railed against the violence – and retreated to their corners again without engaging in any real dialog.
And advocates of gun ownership and gun control reiterated their polarized views. It seems that the concept of compromise in our government – by voters and politicians alike – has become at least obsolete if not an anathema. Gun control proponents demand tighter restrictions, which most people will heed but some will ignore. Gun rights activists cling to a 2nd amendment interpretation that ensures unrestricted ownership for themselves as well as for those who would abuse the privilege.
As we talk at each other and past each other but not with each other, disturbing statistics continue to pile up. There are an estimated 300,000,000 guns in the United States, for a population of 320,000,000 inhabitants. In America each year, some 12,000 people die as victims of gun violence. It takes just six years to kill as many people with guns as died defending America during the entire sixteen years of conflict and war in Vietnam.
When we categorize the circumstances of violence – terrorism in San Bernardino, hate in Orlando, mental illness in Newtown – we sometimes lose sight of the fact that people died. During the public outcry following each mass shooting, including the most recent one in Dallas, people continue to be killed, one by one, in their homes or out in public places.
When will it stop? We can no longer afford to simply invoke the “Guns don’t kill people, people kill people” platitude that became useless several thousand dead people ago. We can no longer afford to pretend that more background checks and increased ownership restrictions will begin to address the problem.
We must agree, however, that 109 children killed by guns since the beginning of 2016 is too many. For goodness sake, the death of one child is too many. We must begin listening to each other. We must stop losing fathers and mothers and neighbors – and children.
Meanwhile, the children are watching. Too frequently they see a firearm as the answer to disagreement. They see adults shoot people in their neighborhoods or across town. In too many heartbreaking incidents, little ones themselves pick up loaded guns. At least once a week, statistically speaking, a toddler somewhere kills himself or someone else with a gun.
The children may not understand disputes among religions, a mentally-ill person’s delusions, or the subtleties of constitutional debate. But they understand that school can be a dangerous place: lockdown drills prepare them for the day a bad man with a gun shows up.
We adults have to double and triple even our best efforts to create a safe world that accepts people just as they are. It is not enough to talk. We have to DO better.
The children are watching.
Shirley Scott, a 1966 graduate of Graham High School, is a native of Champaign County. After receiving degrees in English and German from Otterbein College, she returned to GHS in 1970 where she taught until retiring in 2010. From 1976-2001 she coordinated the German Exchange Program with the Otto-Hahn-Gymnasium in Springe.