I woke up on Wednesday morning to a barrage of Facebook posts that all asked the same question. What do we tell our children about the election?
I’ve lived through a lot of elections – and many that were controversial. In fact, elections are, by nature, controversial. But this one has been different for many reasons. What strikes me the most is the amount of anger that seems to be out there on both sides of the political spectrum. The fact that we communicate so much through social media plays a large part in fueling the anger and hate. But it is what it is. And our children are exposed to it in a larger degree than ever before in history.
The question of “what do we tell our children” is an important one. I know that there are a lot of people who are scared or worried right now. I know that a lot of people would have been scared and worried had the election gone the other way. And I know that a lot of these people are the same people.
My hope is that we would be asking this questions regardless of who had won. The majority of Americans were not happy with the options that were on this year’s ballot. So many of us went to our polling stations with questions and uncertainty. Many of us were torn or had already spent months trying to reconcile our choices. But we went anyway.
I don’t care who you voted for. I really don’t. I am just happy if you voted. I am happy that you made your voice heard. I am happy that you got out of your house and declared yourself an active participant in the world around you.
But now that the votes have been counted and the final speeches made, we are left with the question – what do we tell our children?
For me, the answer is simple. I believe that we tell our children what we should tell our children during any election regardless of the outcome. We tell our children what we should be telling them every day.
We tell our children that their voice matters. We tell them that change starts with them. We tell them that if there is something wrong in the world, in the system or in society, that they have the responsibility and the opportunity to be an agent of change.
We remind our children that we are blessed beyond measure to live in a country that is democratic – regardless of the flaws that we might see in the system. And that the only way to overcome those flaws is to act.
We remember that we are the greatest influence in their lives. We hold fast to the knowledge that a president, politician, teacher or classmate may influence their thoughts and actions – or even determine range of choices they have available – but we lay the foundation of their beliefs.
We remind our sons and our daughters that respect is not their right because of their gender, but a thing that must be earned. We encourage them to stand up for themselves, but for others, as well. We teach them to fight for their place in the world, but to always make room for those around them.
We reinforce the principles of kindness, fairness and justice. We teach them to love fiercely and deeply, never losing sight of the humanity that lies within us all. We teach them that hate is not a weapon to be used in their fight to make the world a better place, rather a poison that hurts them more than those they are fighting against.
We allow them to question. We teach them to challenge the status quo. We tell them to think and not blindly follow. We encourage them to have opinions and to be brave enough to voice those opinions. But remind them of the importance of knowing, deeply and securely, not just what they believe, but why they believe it.
We teach them that strength comes from unity, but that unity does not necessarily mean having the same viewpoint. We remind them that everyone has a story and a reason for believing the way they believe. We teach that them acceptance of an opposing belief is not weakness, rather a strength born from love of our fellow man. We teach them them how to have conversations, not just how to end them.
We remind them to always have perspective. We let them know that one cannot have courage without first having fear. That we can only recognize light when there is darkness and hope when there is despair.
We make sure that they are grounded in the principles of human dignity and respect. We show them that being kind is never a mistake. We teach them love.
I am no different than anyone else. I have been on the “winning” side and the “losing” side of elections. But I know, and I am teaching my children to know, that no one wins when we don’t find a way to stand together for the greater good. Today, and every other day, I want my children to know that we must find a way to stand for our beliefs without denying others the right to theirs – and that goes for arguments, debates, and yes, even elections. I want my girls to believe that being for what they believe and hope and dream is always better than being against an opposing viewpoint.
I want my children to look forward to the future, knowing that they matter and their voice may be one in crowd of millions, but it can still be heard.
At least this is what I will tell my children. Today. Tomorrow. And every day that follows.