copyright © 2008 Betsy L. Angert. BeThink.org
It was a cool Fall evening in South Florida. The breeze was gentle; the sunset glorious. As I approached the intersection where, each weekend I stand in support of peace and tranquility, I did as I do when at this crossroad. I placed my arm out the window. My digits were extended and formed the symbol associated with serenity. When I am in a vehicle, at the locale commonly considered the Peace Corner I work to preserve the intent of my Saturday mission. I strive to advance awareness for the notion, this nation remains at war. Soldiers are slaughtered far from the shores of home sweet home. Civilians, in their native country continue to lose their lives for a want of war. I crave global harmony and will work to restore some sense of civility worldwide. However, as I sat silently in contemplation cries of “Country First” startled me.
The divisiveness that has become pervasive during this political season smacked me in the face. Shaken, I turned to see where the words of contempt might have come from. There they stood, two young boys, perhaps eleven years of age stood on the sidewalk with homemade signs in hand. “McCain Palin” was painted on a poster. Smaller type, difficult to read from even a short distance, said more. I might pretend to portend what the words were meant to communicate. However, I rather not assume. I can only describe what was said and done as the seconds on the street turned into minutes.
As others had done when they passed me with my peaceful placard for oh so many years, I expressed my belief in a manner that might be visible to these youthful demonstrators. I reached for my Obama sign, which is neatly tucked between my windshield and the dashboard. I held the glossy rectangular navy blue sticker up, my arm stretched beyond the side of the automobile. The near Middle School age gents immediately saw my marker and exclaimed. “He is a Muslim!”
I calmly cried, “No, he is not. Barack Obama is a Christian.” “However,” I continued, even if he were as you seem to believe, why would that matter?” ” Do you really wish to be intolerant of other religions?” “What of our rights as afforded by the United States Constitution?” Perhaps as one who taught Junior High School students for so long, an invitation to discuss seemed ideal to me. These young people, not familiar with me, and my love of open and reverent conversations were intent on repeating the rhetoric they likely heard in their homes.
I could not help but wonder would the words Communist, Socialist, or terrorist, pass through the lips of these lads. Might one boy or the other tell me as drivers had days ago when I stood on the corner in vigil for peace, “Barack Obama is Black”? My mind raced as I reflected upon the two chaps. I realized the issues important to them were those the elders they loved had discussed at length. Human as the young men were they knew what they knew. The adolescents were taught to think as the adults important in their lives did. We all do, at least initially.
I remembered a tale I frequently told pupils in the past. In my own life, I later understood, when I was young I was unaware of the infinite options and opportunities to think, say, do, and feel, in ways that were uncommon in my family. I could not imagine what was novel to me. If questioned I would defend my beliefs; however, unlike these preteens I did not dismiss a request for thoughtfulness. A want for greater wisdom was instilled in me from the first. I learned to desire discussions. Fury in my family seemed a futile emotion. It brought more wrath and offered little promise for peace.
However, my relatives did not raise these miniature men. Perhaps that explains why the pair of youthful McCain/Palin supporters began to rant and rage. They chided me for the size of my sign. The littler than full-grown lads laughed as they pointed to a banner firmly planted, permanently into the ground. Behind them was a monstrous sign, perhaps eight-feet wide and six feet high. The words McCain Palin stood strident for all passer-bys to see. On a background, so dark as to appear near black, the white letters screamed support for the Republican ticket.
The boys shrieked; “I cannot even see your sign.” “It is so small,” the two shouted. I did not react. The language the boys used morphed into a lexicon I will not utter, even when distressed. After moments when I avoided actual engagement; although I did not put my Obama sign down, I decided to speak again. “Love and peace,” I proclaimed. I was quickly told there would be none of that. A slew of statements not to be repeated spewed from the mouths of babes. I was stunned, not by the venom but by the similarities and contrast.
While I waited for the light to turn green, I found myself lost in reveries.
As a child, also at the age of eleven or possibly twelve, I first began on my path as an activist, an advocate for people, regardless of race, color, creed, or religion. My civic maturity was intellectually realized through acceptance. I was taught not merely to tolerate others; I learned to embrace all. Amongst my lessons, diversity is as significantly wondrous as similarities. These were our family values. More importantly, the skill that was honed in my parents’ home was listening.
My Mom and Dad helped me to understand that if I chose to hear what another believed, I could grow wiser. Together, communities are greater when the commonweal is the central concern. Fundamentally, my family believed, all individuals believe in love and goodness. “All men [and women, children too] are created equal.
Perhaps that is why, while in Middle School my family participated in a civil rights march. I was invited to join them. Years earlier, at the age of five, I became interested in politics. As my parents engaged in the most animated discussion I had ever witnessed, I learned of elections.
I grew aware of the emotional impact an economic issues and the impact these could have on a vote. Education, the environment, war, and peace all played a part in ballot decisions. At the kitchen table, as I sat and listened to the lively talk on topics that related to every aspect of life, I realized the power of everyday people. All Americans who vote shape our society. I also understood that those to little to cast a ballot had influence.
Mothers and fathers often jest, “My children learn what I never did.” Proud papas revel in the knowledge a son or daughter shares. Modest Mamas marvel when their offspring offer informed opinions. In my youth, I may not have realized the words I uttered as a student enrolled in school were of interest to my Mom and Dad. What I saw and felt taught them. As I talked aloud, my parents learned. We chatted. The child was a mentor. Caregivers were counselors. Each gained and received a greater education from the other.
The difference between my experience and what I witnessed at the intersection was in my family, peace was promoted. A reciprocal reverence was advanced. A word such as “Muslim,” a person’s religion, was not considered a source for a slight.
I was not encouraged to slam or damn another being, not one who stood before me, or one who wished to serve the public. Indeed, behavior than might demean or dismiss another being was sincerely discouraged.
As a child, I was taught to believe competitive temperaments are counter productive. Characteristics that could be classified as cutthroat were considered childish, aggressive, and contrary to the traits that might create peace. Calmness was considered the pinnacle path. In my family, communication was thought to be the greatest travel, that is, next to thinking.
Even in election season, I learned at the knees of Mommy and Daddy; empathy is the best educator. I wondered. What had these young men experienced in their homes?
Would their mothers and fathers be pleased as they heard their brood proclaim prejudice statements from the pavement, “Barack Obama is a Muslim.” Might the Moms or Dads of these chaps be indignant at the discordant idea of “Country First?” Would they rather the children cry in concord, “We, the people, are the change we can believe in.” Likely not. Progeny are the products of parents.
If we teach the children to chastise, they will. Offspring trained to offend others do. Those tutored to act defensively often deliver dubious dictums. Fear fills the spirits of those who were not treated with abundant respect. Apprehension is frequently expressed as anger.
Concerned communication gives birth to calm and care. If we edify praise, as well as unity and peace, our offspring will practice kindheartedness. When mothers and fathers teach attentiveness and acceptance, the children will acquire comparable customs. Elders who choose to listen and learn from and with their progeny teach little ones to do the same.
Perchance what divides our country is not political parties, religious practices, color, or creed. What fractures America is the manner in which we parent our children.