Rule #1: Don’t Be A Dick & The American Political Process

Like every other American I know, I’m sick of this year’s political circus. I’m sick of it, and I’m embarrassed by it. This, my friends, is precisely why, when people asked us, while living abroad, where we were from, I’d smile and (truthfully) open with, “The kids and I are Canadian…” hoping that would deflect a deeper probe as to the other half of our roots. Being an American is just not that cool any more. We’ve ceased to be the smart, motivated, friendly, and welcoming kid in the class who was clearly going places and hoping to take as many of his friends with him as possible, and we’re now more likely to be found starting fights on the playground, or bullying the kid who’s different.

Like every non-American I know, I’m aghast at this year’s political circus in my second country. From the outside, this is a giant soup of acronyms: beginning and ending with WTF. Seriously: What The Actual Fuck?? This is a super power? This is the most influential nation on the planet? This is America? Are we sure? Wait. What happened? Where did the America we used to know go? Geez people, get your collective shit together… this isn’t funny any more. You should know that the rest of the world is freaking out over your current electoral process. In the same way a community might freak out if a crazy person showed up brandishing a gun in a public school. We’re all looking for the exits and worrying about the impending blood bath. Sound dramatic? I don’t think I’m exaggerating the world sentiment much.

Raising Kids: Where The Political Shit Gets Real

Like every mother I know I’m eye balls deep in the real world work of growing the next generation. Trying to impart the basic skills and lessons that the people who will control the state of my geriatric condition, in such a way that I don’t suffer too much on my way out, is not a small task. Raising parents with an eye towards the grandchildren I have not yet come to know and love and their chance at real happiness in this beautiful world isn’t a no brainer. If you don’t have kids, let me point out that it’s a little more complicated process, and a little less cut and dried, than it seems from the outside.

I did a lot of studying of the process of growing humans, both before we had them, and as they’ve grown. I’ve made it my business to research a few years ahead of where we are at in any given moment, examine successes and failures, interview subjects (kids and parents alike) and we’ve done our damnedest to be intentional about this project. What I learned lead me away from parenting books and gurus and towards connecting with the actual humans I had a hand in creating. It lead me away from lists of rules posted on fridges and imposed structures, and towards a concept of graduated freedom as responsibility became evident in an individual, with a focus on community minded participation. This philosophy, boiled down to it’s essence resulted in two rules for our children, just two. Kindness and Love.

Kindness & Love

I remember, vividly, a particular afternoon spent in our camper when a certain 13 year old was weeping her way through yet another altercation with her, at the time, less than community minded brother.

“It’s just not worth it Mom! I hate him. And he HATES me. We will never be friends. We will NEVER love each other. He is NOT KIND no matter what I do. This relationship is NOT WORTH WORKING ON. I can’t do it!”

And, indeed, her assessment of the situation in that moment did not appear to be flawed. Yet, one does not simply give up on primary relationships. One digs in, does the work, continues in kindness and love, even when the other party does not reciprocate. We push forward because the community is going to last longer than any of us and together our impact on the world is greater than alone, and these are lessons best learned at 11 and 13 before we’ve been reduced to fist fights at political rallies, don’t you agree?

We Elect What We Are

If you were to choose two words to describe America in this moment, what would they be? Choose quickly… gut reactions… were either of those words “kindness,” or “love?”

Why is it that as adults we’ve gotten away from the most basic lessons of our childhood?

  • At what point did it become acceptable to mock those differently abled?
  • Or, discriminate against a woman who chooses to veil her head?
  • Or, shout disrespectful and hateful things at individuals we don’t know anything about personally, based solely on our assumptions about them?
  • When did America, land of immigrants, become so afraid of “others” that we want to pull up the drawbridge and shoot arrows from the top of the wall at women, and children in desperate situations?
  • When did our instinct become to protect our own and what we have, over sharing with our neighbors in need?
  • When did the land of freedom from religion become one of complete religious intolerance, on more than once side?

This is not the America I thought I was growing up a part of.

We can blame our leaders. We love to blame our leaders. But, leaders are simply the result of what is in the pot percolating to the top. This has never been more apparent, or more frightening than it is in this election cycle. The ingredients we are boiling must be very foul indeed to produce the cess pool of candidates that have presented themselves.

What We Are Is Frightening

I am truly frightened for America, for the first time in my life.

Not because of who we might elect, but for who we have become. The rise of a man like Trump is reflective of the hearts of the majority of the conservatives in our great nation. The rise of a woman like Hilary speaks to the complete blindness to corruption of the more liberal portion of the country. The massive struggle against every possible obstacle that Sanders is experiences speaks to the fear the entire establishment has in any kind of grassroots movement and the stranglehold the “few” have over our supposed democratic process.

Rule #1: Don’t Be A Dick

As my children have become teenagers and have begun their first forays into adulthood we’ve added a rule, or maybe just distilled the two into one. It sums up the correct approach to almost every social situation. We refer to it, affectionately, as rule number one:

Don’t Be A Dick

What does rule number one in action look like?

  • Respect for the differences and needs of community members.
  • Carrying your own weight so that someone else doesn’t have to.
  • Paying for your own stuff (my definition of adulthood).
  • Looking for ways to serve and acting on them.
  • Making space for the varying emotional states of the people you encounter.
  • Extending the hand of friendship.
  • Giving more than you take.
  • Taking care of your neighbour.
  • Protecting the weak and vulnerable among us.
  • Setting a good example.
  • Taking responsibility for the outcomes of your actions.
  • Thinking, big picture, about the impact of your life and actions now on the future.
  • Leaving the world (or the bathroom) a better place than you found it.
  • Approaching hardship with a cheerful attitude.
  • Disagreeing with clear, calm words and a disposition that respects your adversary’s personhood.
  • Self control in all things.
  • Never making your mother worry, no matter where you are in the world, ever.
  • Returning the family vehicle in good working order and with a tankful of gas.
  • Washing your own dishes and cleaning up your own effing messes.

Can we all pause a moment and consider how rule number one is not being adhered to by America as a whole in this snapshot of history? How would things look different if it was?

I’m aware that the ideological divides are wide and that the consequences of this election cycle are far reaching. In a world of snappy, over simplified sound bites, I recognize the frightening prospect of a voting public that has little understanding of the long term ramifications or the worldwide ripple of the choice that we are, collectively, making in 2016. I’m not a fan of oversimplification.

But I keep returning to this childhood concept of Kindness and Love, and the teenage mantra of rule #1: Don’t be a Dick.

I don’t think it’s oversimplifying things to postulate that if every individual person, regardless of citizenship, were to adopt these standards, the world would be a different place. If the need to be right was superseded by the needs of the people we know and love, and in concentric circles out from there to the unreached tribes in the Amazon who are blissfully ignorant to the ways in which the “modern” community is burning down their world, everything would look different.

You can call me an idealist if you like. I am one. I think we have to be to change the world from the inside out.

But if the American people in the next eight months would simply commit, as individuals to Kindness and Love in every interaction, especially with those they disagree with, the tone of the political process would change dramatically. People would stop punching neighbors in the face outside of stadium rallies for their candidates. Party members would quit rigging the system in illegal and unkind ways to ensure that their candidate got the nomination. Love doesn’t look like trying to buy the silence and the supporting votes of the opposition. Being not-a-dick looks like owning your voting record, manning up to your policy positions and giving it to people straight, without an extra large pile of horse shit that has to be shoveled through to get to the point.

The Other Rule #1

If you were to ask my teenagers (who are hard into a YouTube binge this morning) what rule number one is… it occurs to me that there might be a secondary answer fired at you without looking up from the screen. Some of them might say, instead of “Don’t be a Dick,” “Condoms are your friends!” This rule is a close second. I have preached it loudly. Why?

Because I’m a realist and I want my kids prepared for the real world and eyes wide open about the fact that, actually, a lot of people are Dicks and sometimes the consequences of their actions will affect us in ways that can kill us.

In this particular election cycle it’s a tricky thing to engage fully, kindly, lovingly with the diseased whore that has become the American political process and not come away infected. And yet we’ve got to pull on that prophylactic and get in the game. If we don’t counter the fear and the hate, the lies and self interest with kindness and love from a community minded perspective then America is going to violate rule number one. We’re going to elect a Dick. Again. And four years from now we’ll be further down this catastrophic path.

Take It Personally

Can we look at this giant mess from a more personal perspective? Would you be willing to ask yourself how you can show kindess and love today, specifically in the political sense?

  • Can we stop the name calling, the bullying, the hoarding of toys with a mean face in the corner and the shouting at the kids who haven’t learned enough English yet to quite understand the rules of the game?
  • Can we stop blaming the neighbour’s kid for our kid’s bad behavior?
  • Can we move away from inflammatory memes and towards dialogue for understanding?
  • Can we stop making excuses for our candidates short comings and instead start holding feet to the fire and expecting more out of the people who are the public face of our great nation?
  • Can we remember that who we elect is a direct reflection of who we actually are, as a country?

I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to be a Dick.

Photo Credit: Brittney Bush Bollay